I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, and welcome him back to the Seanad. This issue relates to the Scoliosis Advocacy Network. I am not sure if the Minister of State has been briefed on this issue, but its representative appeared last week on "Today with Claire Byrne" on RTÉ. One of the reasons I am following up on this is that the Scoliosis Advocacy Network has been in touch with me, as it has been in touch with many other Members. The network's concern is what it describes as children languishing on waiting lists to have their medical needs and surgery addressed.
On "Today with Claire Byrne", the cofounder of the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, Ms Clare Cahill, said there had been no engagement with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, despite repeated requests. That surprised me. I have a lot of time for the Minister; he is most engaging. Any time I have had any reason to deal with him on any matter he has been prompt and responsive. That is on the record and I have checked it again. This story was covered on RTÉ radio. I checked again this morning just to be sure. The network has said it is a concern and I would like some clarification on that assertion.
The network has cited the last-minute cancellation of surgery, as well as the experience that some children have had of surgery being cancelled; many of them have had it cancelled three times. That is clearly unacceptable. We know that the Ombudsman for Children has highlighted access to scoliosis care for children and has spoken about it as being a fundamental children's right. I agree with him.
The HSE promised it would buy surgeries and provide health services through the private health system, in a similar manner to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. I now understand this is not available for those with very complex needs, and I can understand that. That is fair and reasonable.
Two issues stood out in RTÉ's coverage of this issue. The Taoiseach has said that the delays in treatment are not because of the lack of resources, but rather are the result of a systemic failure. He said he has spoken to the Minister for Health about these matters. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said the Government severely regrets that children and their families are experiencing long waiting times for scoliosis treatment and that he is seriously concerned about it. I think that is fair comment.
I had hoped to ask the Minister for Health about this. There are now 172 children waiting for scoliosis treatment, many of whom are, as their parents have described, in agony. They have specific needs and the longer interventions are delayed, the more impact there will be on them. It is a scandal. Health is an important issue. It is something that has to be addressed, in particular where children are concerned.
I am not sure if the Minister of State is in a position to answer my question, but I intended to ask the Minister for Health to explain why there is such a delay in surgery and what the systemic failure is that the Taoiseach is on the record as saying exists regarding scoliosis treatment. In a nutshell, I want the Minister of State, if he can, to set out a timeline for how these children will be treated and, more importantly, an absolute commitment that the Minister and Department of Health will engage in a meaningful way with the Scoliosis Advocacy Network.