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. My priority as Minister for Health, and that of this Government, is to improve waiting times for all patients accessing hospital treatment. Reducing the paediatric orthopaedic waiting list remains a priority within that.
In recent years there has been an increased investment in paediatric orthopaedics, which has enabled improved access to surgery and outpatient appointments. In 2018 CHI (previously the Children’s Hospital Group) was provided with an additional €9 million in funding to address paediatric orthopaedic waiting lists, including the provision of scoliosis services. This funding is recurring and has been provided in the base HSE allocation each year since 2018 to fund orthopaedic services.
The additional funding supported the recruitment of approximately 60 WTEs in 2018 and 2019 to enable the expansion of paediatric orthopaedic services. The posts relate to the multi-disciplinary team at diagnosis, pre-assessment, during surgery in theatre, and post operatively. The posts included a number of grades and specialties, including Consultants, Registrars, Radiographers, Clinical Nurse Managers, Staff Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, and associated administrative posts.
Most recently. a new Orthopaedic Consultant with a special interest in neuromuscular conditions was appointed to Temple Street in September, which should enable the use of additional theatre capacity and support additional capacity as part of the Cappagh Kids programme.
As part of CHI’s paediatric orthopaedic service, children with the most complex needs are treated at Crumlin and Temple Street. The National Orthopaedic Hospital at Cappagh provides additional capacity for the treatment of less complex orthopaedic patients, including routine scoliosis procedures. In terms of the provision of Spina Bifida services, CHI have advised my Department that the majority of children under 16 years of age in Ireland with Spina Bifida attend CHI at Temple Street. During 2021 CHI at Temple Street doubled capacity from 2 Multidisciplinary(MDT) clinics to 4 MDT outpatient clinics per month. The Spina Bifida MDT clinics involve clinicians and specialties in Neurodisability, Neurosurgery, Orthopaedics, Urology, Occupational therapy, Physiotherapy, Neuropsychology, Medical Social worker, and Clinical Nurse Specialists.
CHI has advised the Department that this capacity increase is expected to provide each child with an annual review and will reduce the waiting time for follow up appointments. These clinics are based around a child-focused, enablement approach to disability. Patients see the above clinicians on the same day allowing for a shared and collaborative approach to care.
CHI have further confirmed that ultimately, all children in Ireland with Spina Bifida will access the MDT service in the new children’s hospital when it opens as part of the new paediatric model of healthcare services across Ireland.
This Government remains committed to improving access to hospital appointments and procedures. For 2022 an additional allocation of €250 million, comprised of €200 million to the HSE and €50 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund has been provided in respect of work to reduce hospital and community waiting lists. The €250 million will be used to fund additional activity in both the public and private sectors. The €50 million additional funding provided to the NTPF brings its total allocation for 2022 to €150 million, and as a consequence there will be a budget of €350 million available to support vital initiatives to improve access to acute hospitals and community health services.
In addition, my Department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund are also working on a Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years. This process will be overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and includes representatives from the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund. The plan will be informed by the lessons learned from the successful Vaccine Taskforce.