Big differences in waiting times for children’s occupational therapy

Children have been on the list in Wexford for up to three years, says TD Mick Wallace

‘If Wexford needs 35 occupational therapists, then 40 additional therapists nationally is not going to make much of a difference.’ Photograph: iStock

‘If Wexford needs 35 occupational therapists, then 40 additional therapists nationally is not going to make much of a difference.’ Photograph: iStock

 

Big variations exist in waiting times for children to see an occupational therapist in different areas across the State, new figures reveal.

The data show access to the service is essentially a “postcode lottery” with waiting lists in the worst-affected area, Laois-Offaly, about 40 times bigger than in Clare, where the lists are smallest. The waiting list in Wexford is 33 times bigger than that in Clare.

North Tipperary and East Limerick have no waiting lists, Clare has 41 children on its list and Dublin South East has 92. In contrast, 1,671 children are on the list in Laois-Offaly, half of whom have been waiting for more than a year.

Overall, 16,868 children and adolescents are waiting to see an occupational therapist, and 6,864 of these have been waiting for more than a year, according to the figures, obtained by Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace.

Mr Wallace described the inconsistencies between different areas as “shocking”. He says local health managers in Wexford have indicated that they need an additional 35 occupational therapy posts to meet demand, while the HSE service plan for 2019 promises an additional 40 staff for the entire country.

“If Wexford needs 35 occupational therapists, then 40 additional therapists nationally is not going to make much of a difference.”

Children have been on the list in Wexford for up to three years, he says.

“In almost all cases early intervention occupational therapy helps children facing these problems to learn the skills they need to thrive, learn and grow,” said Mr Wallace. “In the absence of appropriate intervention they will largely not overcome these challenges and as they grow they become increasingly isolated from their peers and from society in general.”

Two-year wait

Derek Ryan, from Co Wexford, says his son Mason has been waiting to be seen for two years. “He has lots of gross motor issues with his autism. He can’t fully dress himself, tie his shoes, brush his teeth or wipe himself after toileting. Yet today I’ve been told someone will ring me next week to give me some pointers. The service is crap.”

Mr Ryan says his son has also waited three years for a psychological appointment. “Mason and hundreds of other kids need these services to help them reach their full potential and give them some chance at a normal life in society.”

The HSE says demand for its occupational therapist services for children has been rising, and needs have become more complex. It says applications are prioritised according to clinical need.

Early intervention is crucial for a successful outcome among children requiring occupational therapy intervention. Developmental delay, disability and mental-health challenges are some of the reasons children are referred to a therapist.

Occupational therapy frequently helps with problems such as fine motor skills – for example, holding a pencil – flat feet, sensory disabilities and food intolerances due to heightened senses of taste, smell and texture.