Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
42. To ask the Minister for Health if he will liaise with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the best interest of the child to urgently examine the lack of electronic records at St. Louise’s unit, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, for those children who have reported sexual abuse and are waiting months for specialist interview regarding same; and if the delay in providing the number on the lists to members of Dáil Eireann will be examined (details supplied). [43078/20]
Will the Minister for Health liaise with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the best interests of the child to urgently examine the lack of electronic records at St. Louise's clinic in Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin for those children who have reported sexual abuse and are waiting months for specialist interview regarding same, and the delay in providing the number on the lists of Members of Dáil Éireann.
This is an important question that relates to a very sensitive area. St. Louise's unit in Children's Health Ireland, CHI, at Crumlin is a specialist unit dealing with sexual assault trauma, offering therapeutic interventions to children and families. Timely access to the therapeutic services offered at St. Louise's unit is essential for families, and I note the extraordinary work of the staff in these services, providing a high standard of care to these vulnerable children, and by association their families, who have been through horrific situations.
CHI advises that since January 2021 it has seen a twofold to threefold increase in the number of referrals for assessment and therapy services. This has impacted on waiting times. The referral process has an average waiting time of six to eight weeks for the assessment and of up to five months for therapy services. The service is provided by a multidisciplinary team and the limitations on its availability can also impact on follow-up and longer-term therapy. CHl advises that a waiting list initiative, including face-to-face consultation and telephone support, is in place. I do not believe that the current wait time is acceptable, however, and I have asked my Department to engage as a priority with the HSE to seek viable solutions.
In response to the Deputy's question on the provision of the waiting list data, CHI has confirmed it expects to be in a position to provide timely waiting list data for any future requests received within the normal 15-day period for such requests.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He will appreciate that getting clarity on this is very important. I have been raising this matter since last autumn. I first raised it on Questions on Promised Legislation with the Tánaiste and I have sent several letters to the Minister and his Department as well as tabling parliamentary questions. I have been trying to help a family in my constituency. It is not a waiting list of six to eight weeks as the Minister mentioned. This particular family, and the child was under seven years old, was waiting several months when I first raised the matter in the Dáil. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth tells me that this is an issue for the Department of Health, but the Department of Health has sent me back to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. St. Louise's unit in Crumlin has been referring me to both Departments as well. These children need specific specialist help, so I am a little perplexed by the Minister's reply.
I wish to make clear that there are two different times. One is for assessment, which is the six to eight weeks, but the other, critically - and this might be the situation for the family the Deputy is involved with - is the waiting time for therapy, which is five months. Having looked at this, I do not believe that this is an acceptable amount of time for a child to wait when it is therapeutic intervention in the case of sexual assault. I have instructed the Department to work directly with the HSE to find ways to quickly bring that five-month period down.
The Deputy referred to a delay in sending waiting information. I will come to that in my final reply.
Perhaps the Minister could examine the lack of electronic records. With paper records, it is very difficult to find out exactly where one is on the list. It is hard to cross-check between different Departments and it is hard to know the number of cases. It is hard to believe that we are still relying on paper records at this stage.
I wish to thank the Minister and his staff, in the last week of this session, for the help they have given me on this and other questions. I know the Department has been extremely busy. It must be the busiest Department during the pandemic. However, it is time to move away from paper records so we can at least know how bad the situation is. It is horrific to think that cases have increased two- to threefold during the pandemic. It is horrendous.
I thank the Deputy for her kind words. It is good to hear that the Department and my team have tried to help, so I thank her for that.
With regard to the paper records, I take the Deputy's point. The current patient management system in St. Louise's unit uses dedicated charts which are separate to CHI at Crumlin medical charts, due to the very sensitive information involved, coupled with electronic records which are held on a secure server with controlled access, for reasons we all appreciate. It has not been possible to establish a reason for the delay in providing the information to the Deputy, but CHI has assured officials that it is in a position to provide such information within 15 days. Due to the recent cyberattack and its effect on documentary records, including email, CHI is unable to advise of the circumstances which led to the delay. I apologise to the Deputy for any delay she encountered.