The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has “expressed its continuing concern at the excessive number of children waiting for an appointment to be treated or assessed in public hospitals”.
The warning from consultants comes as the latest National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures released today reveal that 895,700 people were on some form of hospital waiting list at the end of July, including almost 100,800 children and young people.
While a recent report highlighted the extent of “extreme” capacity shortages in Ireland’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), the IHCA’s analysis shows that similar capacity deficits are resulting in lengthy waiting lists across a number of paediatric specialities.
These include ear, nose and throat (ENT), dermatology, orthopaedics and cardiology – with some being forced to wait months or years for assessment or treatment.
The IHCA said that difficulty in filling permanent consultant posts and growing hospital and mental health capacity deficits against increases in demand are the root causes of the “unacceptably long” child waiting lists.
One in five (20,600) children are waiting longer than a year for treatment or assessment by a hospital consultant. Latest HSE data reveals the number of unfilled permanent consultant posts has risen to a record 933. This is the highest consultant vacancy rate ever.
CTs, MRIs, ultrasounds
Hospital diagnostics are not included in NTPF data which accounts for an additional 8,916 children awaiting CTs, MRIs or ultrasounds at the three Dublin paediatric hospitals alone, bringing the total number awaiting care to almost 110,000 – or one in 12 children in the country.
In addition, a near record 4,421 children were on separate Camhs waiting lists at the end of May 2023 – 128 (3 per cent) additional children added so far this year.
The Camhs waiting list has increased by almost a quarter (+865 or 24 per cent) since the start of 2022 and has almost doubled (+2,094 or +90 per cent) since the start of 2020.
Despite the Government’s €443 million waiting list action plan, which set a target to reduce waiting lists by 10 per cent by the end of the year, “the number of children on NTPF waiting lists has actually increased by 3,800 (4 per cent) since the start of 2023, instead of reducing by an expected 5,600 by the end of July”.
The association warns that these lists are expected to increase further over the coming months due to a surge in autumn and winter respiratory illnesses and a potential new wave of Covid, leading to further cancellations of schedule care.
Commenting on today’s waiting lists, IHCA President Professor Robert Landers, said:
“The monthly NTPF figures have recorded over 100,000 children on waiting lists for hospital care for the fifth consecutive month, with one in five of these children waiting longer than a year to be treated or assessed in public hospitals. This is resulting in thousands of children not getting the care they need in a timely way, and the real possibility that they will suffer serious and lasting health and developmental issues that could have been reversed or mitigated against if only they were seen in time.”
Prof Landers added: “Every single number is an individual child or young person who could be experiencing pain, and a family that may be suffering psychological distress at not knowing when their child will be able to receive treatment. This is a wholly unacceptable situation. Young patients and their parents should not have to fight for care.
“As consultants, we need and want sustainable solutions to help alleviate this distress and provide the care these children so desperately need. However, we have unresolved hospital capacity deficits and consultant vacancies that is not being addressed urgently enough. These twin deficits must be addressed by the Government in October’s Budget.”