Varadkar unable to give ‘adequate answers’ on why child-surgery waiting lists not fixed

It will take more than one government to solve problems with services, Taoiseach tells Dáil

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not have “adequate answers” as to why issues around paediatric orthopaedic and spinal surgeries have not been addressed.

The Fine Gael leader told the Dáil on Wednesday that it would take “more than one government” to solve problems with the services. He said he would meet patient-advocacy groups again as soon as there was a gap in his diary.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government needed to find out exactly how an allocation of €19 million for paediatric orthopaedic and spinal surgeries was spent.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil on Tuesday that he has asked the HSE to send its internal audit teams into Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) to assess how the money was used. CHI is the body that governs paediatric services at Crumlin, Tallaght, Connolly and Temple Street hospitals.


Mr Donnelly said 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 added: “As we all know, that has not happened.

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

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said although the Minister and the Government did not know how the €19 million was spent, “far too many children are waiting and waiting”. She described the situation as “utterly scandalous”.

In response, Mr Varadkar said some of the money was spent on providing 204 additional healthcare professionals working for “at least some of their time” at Temple Street, Crumlin and Cappagh hospitals as well as more beds and MRIs.

“What we can’t establish for certain is how much of the €19 million was spent exactly on this, so we need to find that out,” he said.

The Taoiseach said the number of procedures being carried out had significantly increased, with 509 spinal procedures in 2022, and 464 last year, compared to 380 in 2019.

Sinn Féin has put forward a motion calling for a taskforce, independent of CHI management, to review scoliosis and spina bifida services. It wants the taskforce to be “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. A vote is due to take place on the party’s motion on Wednesday night.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times