McDonald tells Dáil 4,000 children with scoliosis are waiting on first consultation

Sinn Féin leader says ‘suffering and mental distress is unimaginable’ for children who could not get spinal surgery

Four thousand children with scoliosis are waiting for their first consultation while 270 are awaiting surgery and 78 of them have waited far longer than four months, according to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

“The most complex, the most desperate of cases have the longest wait,” she said, adding that “their parents are in a state of absolute panic”.

Raising the issue in the Dáil, Ms McDonald said “the suffering and mental distress is unimaginable”, for children who could not get surgery.

Citing one case, she said she had spoken to the mother of one child who was now aged 19 and her case was now deemed inoperable.


She said that when Taoiseach Simon Harris was minister for health in 2017 he promised that children would not have to wait more than four months for treatment.

She told Mr Harris that parents she met on Monday evening said: “Government has actively, consistently and comprehensively failed our children.”

Ms McDonald asked if the Taoiseach would once again promise that children would not have to wait more than four months for spinal surgeries.

She also claimed that in 2019 he ended a scheme providing for children to travel abroad for treatment and asked if it would be reinstated.

She called on Government to comply with the demands of parents of children with scoliosis to fund a second opinion independent of Children’s Health Ireland.

Mr Harris said scoliosis was an extraordinarily important, stressful and worrying issue for many families in Ireland, many of whom he had met and “many children whose faces and names I still remember”.

The Taoiseach said that when he was minister for health he did place a real focus on scoliosis and the then director general of the HSE said they would put a plan in place to make sure that no child was waiting more than four months.

That plan originated from clinical advice and similar advice exists within the NHS, he added. He said that after he made that pledge progress was made and there was a very significant reduction in the number of children waiting for surgery.

He said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has been putting a real focus on the issue and there has been a significant increase again in the number of surgeries carried out. In 2022 there were 509 surgeries, up from 380 in 2019 and more than 120 spinal procedures in 2024 to date.

The four months remains the target, they were looking at treatments abroad and he would engage with the Minister and the HSE about the suggestion of a second independent opinion “because it seems like it’s a suggestion made in good faith”.

Mr Harris added that the Minister is convening a dedicated paediatric spinal taskforce with an independent chair who was now meeting stakeholders and patient groups and finalising the terms of reference.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times