I sincerely regret that children can experience a long waiting time for treatment for scoliosis, and I am conscious of the burden that this places on them and their families. This Government’s priority is to improve waiting times for all patients accessing hospital treatment across all specialties, including Scoliosis.
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result of the deferral of elective scheduled care activity in March, April and May of 2020, and since 2nd January 2021.
It is of note that key social distancing measures and Infection Prevention and Control requirements, such as two-metre distancing, have a material impact on the available physical space to deliver all hospital services, including scoliosis procedures, and this has had a significant impact on both available capacity and operational activity levels.
Despite the challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic last year, by 31st December 2020 Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) had carried out 322 scoliosis procedures, a decrease in activity of 16% compared with 2019. By the end of March 2021, CHI had carried out a total of 108 scoliosis surgeries, an increase of 24 surgeries (29%) compared to the same period in 2020.
Children’s Health Ireland has advised my Department that as of the end of March 2021, there were 119 patients on the spinal fusion waiting list, a decrease of 4 patients compared to the start of the year. There were 70 patients on the waiting list for other spinal procedures, which is a decrease of 8 patients since the start of 2021.
Children’s Health Ireland has advised that under the current HSE guidelines, they have reduced the number of procedures to urgent and those that are time sensitive. Children’s Health Ireland has advised that they are working with the National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh to expand orthopaedic capacity. This is expected to have a positive impact on orthopaedic long waiting patients, including reductions in waiting times for children with scoliosis. CHI is also running additional orthopaedic clinics in City West, using a new active clinical triage model, which is reducing the number of children waiting the longest for appointments.
Representatives of CHI, the Orthopaedic Spinal Team and the Advocacy Groups continue to meet as part of the Co-Design framework on a quarterly basis to work on providing solutions for patients in the spinal service.
In relation to the number of children who are waiting for an appointment for an initial referral with a scoliosis consultant/scoliosis assessment, the table attached shows the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) published figures by time-band for paediatric orthopaedics outpatients at the end of March 2021. The waiting list figures relate to the specialty of paediatric orthopaedics and cannot be broken down by medical diagnosis, therefore the number of children with a diagnosis of scoliosis who are on this waiting list cannot be provided.