Temple Street parents call for statutory inquiry into spinal surgery failings as they meet HSE chief and Minister

Advocacy groups say they have lost confidence in Minister and HSE to resolve ‘catastrophe’ in children’s spinal surgeries

Families impacted by the problems around spinal surgeries at Temple Street children’s hospital have called for an independent statutory investigation into paediatric orthopaedics in the State.

Two advocacy groups have also called for the creation of a taskforce to take over the management of waiting lists for children’s spinal surgery, which have been bedevilled by delays for many years.

The Scoliosis Advocacy Network (SAN) and the Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Paediatric Advocacy Group (SBHPAG) say they have lost all confidence in Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the HSE to resolve the current “catastrophe” in children’s spinal surgeries.

“Our children languish on waiting lists and deteriorate to the point that they become at risk of highly complex and dangerous procedures, complications and poor outcomes as a direct result of the length of time they waited for intervention,” according to Amanda Coughlan-Santry, founder of SBHPAG.


“This failure to provide timely access to care is a dereliction of duty on the part of Children’s Hospital Ireland (CHI) and the HSE, and not a situation that has sprung up overnight or at the hands of one surgeon or team. It is a systemic failure.”

The two groups were speaking at a press conference in Dublin on Friday in advance of a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr Donnelly and HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster about the fallout from revelations at Temple Street, where a review last week identified high rates of complications in the work of one surgeon.

The HSE has commissioned a further external review into the scandal, which the two groups are threatening to boycott unless the terms of reference are widened and patients are directly involved.

To reduce the size of waiting lists, the State needs to buy the time of private orthopaedic consultants and private hospitals, as well using cross-Border treatment schemes to have children treated in other countries, the groups said.

“It is time that the Government took ownership of this issue and put in place the necessary investigative requirements rather than giving us the usual platitudes like ‘it’s too early now to assess the situation’ or don’t pre-judge matters’,” said Michelle Long, co-founder of SAN.

Mr Donnelly last year allocated €19 million toward cutting waiting lists for children’s spinal surgeries. Una Keightley, co-founder of SBHPAG, said her group wrote to to the minister last year expressing concern about where this money was being spent. “We had no communication from Stephen Donnelly from last summer to this week. He ignored us.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Varadkar said there had been an “open and honest exchange of views” with three representative groups.

The Taoiseach thanked the representatives for taking the time to meet: “The groups set out their serious concerns regarding orthopaedic services. All sides said they would reflect on the matters discussed.”

SAN and SBHPAG said the Taoiseach did not rule out the proposal for a statutory review. As for the taskforce proposal, “the Taoiseach did not rule this out and [it] is under consideration”.

The ministers and the HSE also undertook to consider paying for a second medical opinion abroad for affected children with spinal conditions, the two groups said.

Both sides agreed to meet again in the coming weeks.

A consultant at Temple Street has been referred to the Medical Council after two serious incidents in children undergoing spinal surgery, including the death of a child. It has also emerged that unauthorised springs were implanted in three children, two of which have been removed.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.