Commencement Matters

Medical Treatment Complaints

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. As Senator David Cullinane is not present, I call Senator Marie Moloney to commence.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I also thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take this debate. My Commencement matter does not come within his remit. I assume he is attending in the absence of the Minister for Health and thank him for doing so.

I tabled this matter today at the request of the parents of a family who are very concerned for their son who requires spinal deformity surgery and awaits a call from Crumlin hospital for same. He is a young teenager who has attended Crumlin hospital for some time and I shall outline a brief history of his situation. He suffers from scoliosis and was advised by his consultant that he required surgery. He was placed on a list for surgery and was advised that he would be called for same in the summer of 2013. As his parents heard nothing more about it, the surgery never took place. They telephoned the hospital and were given a follow-up consultation appointment when they were advised that their son would be called for surgery while still in sixth class but definitely before he would go into first year in secondary school. He received an appointment for June 2014. His parents are very concerned that the older he gets the harder it will be to rectify the problem. They were delighted to learn he would eventually have the surgery. However, one week before his surgery was due to take place, his parents received a letter from Crumlin hospital informing them that the surgery had been cancelled. Subsequently, they received a telephone call from the hospital telling them that because they had not kept the appointment they would be put back on a list and their son would have to wait until January 2015. They still await a date for the surgery. His mother has advised me that they have had several appointments cancelled by the hospital and always at very short notice which they feel is grossly unfair.

I shall give the Minister of State a little history about the family because it is important for people to know. The family members have suffered a lot of personal tragedies in their lives. They have previously lost their young son to cancer who was buried a day before his 13th birthday. Therefore, one can understand the worry and concern that these parents have about the well-being of their children, particularly this young boy who awaits surgery. During the time their other son battled cancer the family were out of their home for six months. That meant their children had to be moved out of their regular school and moved to another school for convenience. There has been huge upheaval in this family's life and now the parents are stressed and worried about their next son.

As this matter indicates, another factor is at issue. I contacted Crumlin hospital to see what the situation was. On that occasion I was more or less abruptly told that there were 200 children on the waiting list for spinal deformity surgery and there were inadequate services. I appreciate that the Minister for Health and his predecessor had very little money, or no money when they took up office, to target these areas and waiting lists. As the economy recovers, it is important that these children should be helped. I also believe the waiting list for spinal deformity surgery and other surgeries for children should be targeted and extra funding provided. I await with interest the reply of the Minister of State.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. She has outlined an extremely difficult case which has been further compounded by the other tragedy faced by the family and manner in which they have been dealt with from an administrative point of view. Their expectations were raised only to be quashed, an issue that must be dealt with by the HSE.

I am dealing with this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and have been provided with the following information. Scoliosis in children and young people is predominantly managed at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. It is acknowledged that waiting times for scoliosis services are unsatisfactory. Demand has been increasing, with resulting pressure on capacity. In 2014 the hospital had agreed capacity to carry out 58 full spinal cases per year as part of its annual service level agreement with the HSE, in addition to treating children requiring repeat procedures and rod lengthening. At the end of last month 174 patients were waiting for surgery, while 46 surgeries had been undertaken.

In order to increase capacity, funding was allocated in the HSE service plan for 2015 for the appointment of an orthopaedic surgeon, an anaesthetist and support staff at Crumlin hospital. This will maximise the use of available theatre sessions at the hospital. Recruitment is under way to fill these posts, which is expected to allow for an additional 25 cases to take place in the hospital in 2015. Despite this additional capacity in 2015, the number of surgeries in the hospital will still fall short of what is required to deal with demand.

The HSE, the children's hospital group and Crumlin hospital are working together on an ongoing basis to identify all options to increase capacity further. In the short term this includes utilising capacity in other hospitals, where clinically appropriate. In the medium term additional laminar flow theatre capacity will be developed at Crumlin hospital. Following an appraisal of options to increase theatre capacity, the HSE has recently allocated funding for this development.

While it is not appropriate for me to discuss the details of a particular case, I emphasise, on behalf of the Minister for Health, our determination to address undue waiting times for all those requiring scoliosis services. The Minister is confident that the increased investment I have outlined to the House will deliver significant improvements in scoliosis service capacity.

The case raised by the Senator is particularly difficult and I do not want to give platitudes to the family by saying we sympathise and empathise with them. There is a particular issue concerning the manner in which they were dealt with in terms of the way their expectations had been raised. Perhaps direct intervention by the Minister might lead to further light being shed on the matter for the young man concerned.

I am delighted with the extra funding and resources being put into Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, for which I commend the Minister for Health and the HSE. However, I raise this case in the House because I cannot get an answer from anyone as to why surgery has continuously been cancelled. The problem is that nobody is answerable in the HSE generally in that regard. I had assumed the Minister would be able to obtain an answer from the HSE because I was unable to get one and neither could the boy's parents. All I wanted was reassurance for the parents that the surgery would go ahead without further delay, but they have been put on the long finger and messed about. I know that there are probably other children whose cases are as bad as, if not worse than, his, but the family are very stressed and upset. They believe their son is being neglected and that they must do something about the matter, which is why they contacted me initially. I then contacted the Minister, but there has been no further movement in the case. I had never intended for the boy's name to be mentioned the House because no one needs to be aware of those directly involved in the case. However, his parents need information on what is happening in his case and I ask the Minister of State to provide it.

As a Member of the Oireachtas, the Senator has the facility to make a direct approach to the line Minister. I absolutely sympathise with this teenager in his predicament and, in fairness to the Senator, she has protected his anonymity. His case needs to be taken up directly with the Minister or a Minister of State at the Department of Health. As the Senator pointed out, several appointments have been cancelled and the boy's expectations and those of his family have been raised and dashed numerous times. That issue must be addressed. I fully accept and acknowledge that the circumstances of the case need to be examined.

I hope that, as a result of Senator Marie Moloney's strong intervention, further light will be shed on the matter.

As the other Senators who tabled Commencement matters are not present in the House, we will suspend the sitting until 11.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 10.50 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.