Donnelly asks HSE to audit how €19m for Children’s Health Ireland surgeries was spent

Minister for Health told Dáil amount was allocated in 2022 to bring down waiting lists for orthopaedic and paediatric proceedures

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked the HSE to send its internal audit teams into Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) to see how an allocation of €19 million for orthopaedic and spinal surgeries was spent.

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil on Tuesday that the amount was allocated in 2022 to help bring down waiting lists for such surgeries for children from more than four months to zero.

However, the minister said: “As we all know, that has not happened.”

“I have listened carefully to concerns that patients and families have raised with me, I have consulted clinicians about the allocation of that €19 million,” Mr Donnelly said.


“I know that a portion of that money has been used to increase the number of surgeries. It is evident that is the case.

“However, concerns have been raised that all of the money may not have been allocated to orthopaedic and spinal surgery, certainly not in the way that I intended, Government would have intended and I’ve no doubt that all of us in this House would want to have seen.

“On that basis, I have asked the HSE to send their internal audit teams into CHI. I want a full account of the entire €19m mapped against the intended purpose for that €19 million.”

Mr Donnelly was speaking as Sinn Féin put forward a motion calling for the establishment of a taskforce to review scoliosis and spina bifida services, independent of CHI management and “mandated to listen, engage, and act on the advice and concerns of parents, patient advocates, and clinicians”.

The party has accused the Government of failing to deliver on commitments made to children requiring surgery for scoliosis and other orthopaedic conditions.

Mr Donnelly said he acknowledged what was happening was “inhumane” and the State had failed “far too many” children over many years.

“I assure the House I am not standing up to say that everything is fine because it is not,” he said.

“I am not standing up to say that everything that could be done has been done because it has not.”

The Fianna Fáil TD added there were several additional measures he had directed his Department, the HSE and CHI to undertake, including the establishment of a dedicated spinal surgery management unit.

Mr Donnelly said this unit would focus on the management of the service, increasing volume, ensuring patient safety and reducing waiting lists and waiting times.

He said despite a record number of surgeries over the past two years, there had also been “a record number of new referrals on to the list, which is more significant than many of us would have thought”.

The Government’s countermotion says there were 509 spinal procedures carried out in 2022 and 464 last year, which represents a 34 per cent increase and a 22 per cent rise respectively compared to 2019.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman David Cullinane said there were children “who are waiting in agony for years on end” and the State did not have the preoperative or post-operative care services required.

The Waterford TD spoke of an 18-year-old male, TJ, from Tullamore, who spent years on a CHI waiting list.

“He waited so long that his scoliosis became inoperable,” Mr Cullinane said.

The Sinn Féin TD added that despite countless motions and statements from Government ministers, “in the words of the Ombudsman for Children, all that these families have got from Government so far is a litany of broken promises”.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times