Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Department of Health
Hospital Waiting Lists
529. To ask the Minister for Health the action he is taking to shorten waiting lists for scoliosis operations for children; if he will combat the delays that occurred due to Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49433/21]
I sincerely regret that children can experience a long waiting time for hospital appointments and treatment, and I remain conscious of the burden that this places on them and their families.
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last nineteen months as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently as a result of the ransomware attack. While significant progress was made in reducing waiting times from June 2020 onwards, the surge in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of 2021 and the associated curtailment of acute hospital services, coupled with the ransomware attack of May 2021, has impacted waiting times. However, despite the impact on capacity and activity, Children’s Health Ireland performed 322 spinal surgeries in 2020 compared with 382 in 2019 and 221 by the end of August in 2021.
The cyber-attack in May 2021 caused significant disruption to the orthopaedic service and all services across the Children’s Health Ireland Hospital Group. Many elective cases were postponed. Without access to a patient’s full history and previous diagnostic investigations, it was not considered safe to proceed without all electronic support systems in place. This impacted patients with complex needs in particular and restricted the patient cohort that could safely proceed with surgery during this time.
Children's Health Ireland has informed by Department that most systems are back up and running, but back-loading of information is ongoing, and this continues to have an impact on waiting lists and the number of surgeries completed.
A new Orthopaedic Consultant with a special interest in neuromuscular conditions started in Temple Street last month, which should enable the use of additional theatre capacity and support additional capacity as part of the Cappagh Kids programme. In addition, currently there are additional out-patient clinics and additional theatre sessions being held in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital, for non-complex, age-appropriate orthopaedic patients. It is envisioned that this should improve access to theatre on Children’s Health Ireland base sites for more complex patients awaiting surgery.
Children’s Health Ireland is continuing to develop the Advanced Clinical Triage clinic model in City West. Active Clinical Triage is a system which has been adapted for use within the paediatric orthopaedic unit at CHI Crumlin and its purpose is to reduce the overall orthopaedics out-patient waiting list, starting with the longest waiting clinically appropriate referrals.
Children’s Health Ireland continues to work with the HSE to explore new and innovative ways of working and develop initiatives to support additional orthopaedic and scoliosis activity.
An additional €240 million has been provided in Budget 2021 for access to care, €210m of which has been allocated to the HSE and a further €30m to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). This is being used to fund additional capacity to address the shortfall arising as a result of infection control measures taken in the context of COVID-19, as well as addressing backlogs in waiting lists.
My Department continues to work with the HSE and the NTPF to develop plans to tackle the rise in waiting lists. The Acute Waiting List Action Plan, which is a short-term plan to address loss of activity arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and ransomware attack was published last week. In addition a longer-term Multi Annual Waiting List Plan is being developed with the objective to bring waiting times in line with Sláintecare targets.