I sincerely regret that children can experience a long waiting time for hospital appointments and procedures, and I am conscious of the burden that this places on them and their families. This Government is committed to improving waiting times for all patients accessing hospital treatment across all specialties, including rheumatology.
Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) has advised the Department that during the initial phases of COVID-19, all face to face hospital outpatient reviews and most of the planned diagnostic tests, including MRI, were deferred in response to the pandemic. From June onwards, CHI at Crumlin had recommenced the majority of outpatient and diagnostic services, albeit at reduced numbers, due to public health guidelines on social distancing. However, due to the recent rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community and the need to reduce the number of people coming into the children’s hospitals, CHI is prioritising emergency, urgent and time sensitive procedures and care. In so far as possible, most out-patient clinics have been moved to virtual or telephone clinics, unless specified by the consultant that a face to face review is needed.
Children’s Health Ireland is engaging with the HSE on a proposal to secure funding for an additional MRI scanner for Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin in order to meet the needs of current and future MRI service. Children’s Health Ireland has further advised my Department that there is an active recruitment campaign for an additional Rheumatology Consultant underway. This additional position will allow for an increased number of patients to be seen, diagnosed and treatment initiated, as part of the comprehensive Rheumatology service.
In relation to the data requested by the Deputy, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) collect, collate and publish waiting lists in respect of outpatient specialties and inpatient/daycase procedures. Waiting times can be examined in terms of the appointment or procedure that a patient is waiting for, however, it is not possible to identify patients based on their clinical diagnosis, such as juvenile arthritis.
The attached tables provide details of the total number of patients awaiting a first Outpatient appointment with a Consultant Rheumatologist at CHI Crumlin at the end of December 2020, and the number of those patients with an area of residence in counties Laois and Offaly.
The total number of patients awaiting a Rheumatology inpatient or day case procedure (IPDC) at CHI Crumlin is also provided, however the NTPF have advised my Department that they are unable to provide the breakdown of patients on the Rheumatology IPDC waiting list with an area of residence in counties Laois and Offaly due to the low numbers involved, as this would breach Statistical Disclosure Control.