10,000 children are 'hidden' on waiting lists to see consultant
There are at least 10,000 children 'hidden' on waiting lists and languishing in queues to see a consultant in hospitals around the country.
It means the true figure for children on out-patient waiting lists is nearer to 57,000, not the 47,717 reported in official statistics.
The gap is due to the fact that out-patient figures for 23 hospitals report all patients on the lists as adults, though many are children.
The revelation comes as the out-patient waiting list crisis deepens, with 556,411 patients of all ages facing delays of more than 18 months before getting a specialist appointment.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which reports on waiting lists monthly, only captures the number of children needing a specialist assessment in the three Dublin children's hospitals - Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght.
The failure to disclose the true number of children waiting has been highlighted by the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, which represents families of youngsters who suffer from the spinal condition.
"Children are referred to their local hospital first - be it Galway, Cork or Waterford - but they are being counted as adults in the waiting lists," said spokeswoman Claire Cahill.
She said there are around 1,000 additional children on out-patient waiting lists to see an orthopaedic surgeon, outside of the three children's hospitals, but this is not coming to light.
"The Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon, called for child-specific waiting lists to be released, but this has never been done, not just in relation to scoliosis but other conditions," Ms Cahill said.
The nearest insight into the scale of the queues was revealed when Fianna Fail TD Anne Rabbitte, through a parliamentary question, received a breakdown of the number of children waiting for an out-patient appointment in every hospital.
A total of 43,316 were waiting in the children's hospitals, but the hidden figures showed another 10,000 in other hospitals, with many facing delays of more than 18 months.
The breakdown revealed children accounted for as many as 1,397 on the out-patient list in University Hospital Galway, and 1,040 were waiting in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda.
Just over 990 children were waiting to see a specialist in Cork University Hospital and 898 in University Hospital Limerick.
The figures are likely to have increased since then.
The NTPF declined to say why it is not providing a full picture of children's waiting lists every month.
The Department of Health said that some of the €75m in funding given to the NTPF this year is being used to buy private out-patient appointments for public patients on the waiting lists.
It will provide 3.3 million out-patient appointments for adults and children.
This year, the HSE said it would focus in particular on specialties with a high volume of referrals and large proportions of long-waiting patients, including ear, nose and throat and dermatology.
In addition, the NTPF will provide 40,000 first out-patient appointments through weekend and out-of-hours clinics and "see and treat" clinics.