Almost 800 children are waiting more than two years for surgery

Thirty-six children are on surgery waiting lists of more than four years, figures show

Fresh figures supplied by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly show there are 4,054 children waiting longer than six months on hospital surgery lists. File photograph: Getty Images

Fresh figures supplied by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly show there are 4,054 children waiting longer than six months on hospital surgery lists. File photograph: Getty Images

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Almost 800 children are on hospital surgery waiting lists of longer than two years as the Covid-19 pandemic and Health Service Executive cyberattack significantly worsened waiting times.

Fresh figures supplied by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill show that 36 children are on surgery waiting lists of more than four years, 109 are waiting more than three years and 645 are waiting more than two years.

Overall, there are 4,054 children waiting longer than six months on hospital surgery lists.

Mr Donnelly said that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last 19 months “as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic” and “more recently as a result of the ransomware attack”.

“While significant progress was made in reducing waiting times from June 2020 onwards, the surge in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of 2021 and the associated curtailment of acute hospital services, coupled with the ransomware attack of May 2021, has impacted waiting times,” he said.

The figures come amid fresh strain on the hospital system, with the number of people in intensive care with Covid-19 rising to 97 on Sunday, and the number of health workers out sick due to the virus now approaching 2,000.

Eilish Hardiman, chief executive of Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) which governs the children’s hospitals in Dublin, said it had been “a very challenging fortnight”.

“We have more attending and they are staying in longer, which has meant hospital beds are at full capacity, which means we have children waiting in trolleys in emergency departments,” she said on Sunday.

Of the waiting lists for surgery, Mr Donnelly said his department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund were focusing on improving access to elective care in order to reduce waiting times for patients.

“These plans include increased use of private hospitals; funding weekend and evening work in public hospitals; funding ‘see and treat’ services where minor procedures are provided at the same time as outpatient consultations; providing virtual clinics; and increasing capacity in the public hospital system.”

An extra €250 million has been allocated for 2022 to tackle hospital waiting lists and this will be used to pay for “additional activity” in both the public and private sectors.

Challenges

Ms Carroll MacNeill said children with serious and long-term illnesses and their families “face challenges that no one outside that world really truly understand”.

She said “each of the numbers in this file is a child, with all of the brilliance and potential and hope that each family has for their individual child in need”.

For example, she said, “I spoke to one family this year whose little son needed a particular and delicate surgery to help him with his toileting before he grew too big. He finally got it in June when he was two but not before the family went through huge stress to get it.

“The difference that surgery makes is not just physical, but contributes to his development coming more into line with what might be expected for his young age, after a long setback.”

Meanwhile, a leading virologist has said that the Government could keep hospitals safer this winter by giving healthcare workers a booster Covid-19 vaccine although it was not required from a scientific basis.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, a member of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), said vaccines had adequately protected health workers from illness but the Government could decide to boost immunity to avoid the hospital system coming under further pressure during the winter.

The HSE is rolling out booster jabs to people aged over 60, and Niac is coming under pressure to extend this programme to health workers.

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