47,000 children wait to see specialist in capital, but full picture 'hidden'
A consultant recruitment crisis has led to more than 47,000 children waiting to see a specialist in one hospital group, but a leading campaigner says "many more children are hidden away on national waiting lists".
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) released the figures showing more than 47,000 children are waiting to see a specialist at the Children's Health Ireland Hospital Group, which is responsible for Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght hospitals, as part of its Care Can't Wait campaign.
"It's very unacceptable to have a waiting time of anything other than three to six months, at most, for a young child or infant to see a specialist," said Prof Alf Nicholson, RCSI professor of paediatrics and consultant paediatrician at Temple Street.
"At the moment, wait times are well above that and that is very distressing to be a part of.
"The effects that long waiting lists have on patients is significant.
"It's solvable if we bring in new specialists, specialists that should already be a part of the health service system."
Waiting lists have increased by 46pc since June 2016 at the group.
More than 19,000 children are waiting more than 12 months to see a specialist.
Claire Cahill, from the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, which represents families waiting for life-changing surgery, said that although the figures at the group were startling, they did not represent a truly national picture.
"Ireland does not currently maintain child-specific wait lists," Ms Cahill said.
"This means we do not know just how many children are languishing for care across the HSE.
"There are also thousands of children hidden on wait lists across the HSE, all counted and reported as adult waiters.
"The establishment of child- specific wait lists and target wait times for the out-patient department for children was a recommendation of the Ombudsman for Children's report on scoliosis.
"These recommendations have never been implemented.
"We ask how can the HSE plan and develop services for children when they do not know just how many children require care?
"Children are a vulnerable cohort of patient and they must be safeguarded from harm and injury that long waits for care can result in."
The campaign group said paediatric consultant shortages need to be addressed as a "national priority to improve the level of paediatric healthcare provided in Ireland".
In response, Children's Health Ireland said that it "regrets any long wait a patient and their family has for an outpatients appointment."
A spokesperson said that funding has been secured under the National Treatment Purchase Fund for initiatives this year to address access to patients for specialties such as ENT.
Recruitment of additional consultants with the longest out patient waiting times, including allergy, dermatology, radiology, gastroenterology, rheumatology and orthopaedics is also underway.