Theatre to treat scoliosis to open by April, health minister confirms

It follows an RTÉ documentary on waiting lists

Theatre to treat scoliosis to open by April, health minister confirms

Simon Harris speaking in the Castlebar Convention Centre in 2015 | Image: RollingNews.ie

Health Minister Simon Harris says a scoliosis theatre at Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin will open in April.

Minister Harris told the Dáil it will handle at least 194 operations this year.

He has met with the hospital's CEO, after it emerged the theatre was built but has not been sufficiently staffed to open.

Mr Harris was seeking answers for why the €3m theatre was not being used.

"This will see significant reductions in waiting lists for scoliosis and waiting times for scoliosis patients.

"At the end of this month, I will receive - from the HSE and the Children's Hospital Group - an Action Plan on Scoliosis.

"I will engage with all parties anon in this House and with advocacy groups in relation to that.

"And in addition to that, by June we will have an additional orthopedic post filled".

Mr Harris met with the Health Service Executive (HSE), the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), as well as senior officials in the Department of Health.

Speaking after the meetings, he outlined actions being taken on waiting lists:

  • Additional theatre capacity will be provided for scoliosis procedures in Crumlin Childrens’ Hospital from April, as new theatre opens
  • An orthopaedic post in Crumlin Hospital will be filled by June
  • An Action Plan for Scoliosis will be presented to the minister by the HSE by the end of February
  • The NTPF, at the minister’s request, will now audit the practices in each of the hospitals highlighted by the individual cases featured in the programme last night and will report to the minister
  • The NTPF has informed the minister that the way it classifies its waiting lists has been the same since its inception in 2002 and follows international best practice. However, it has already commenced a review of international best practice on waiting list data publication models
  • The €5m provided by the minister to the NTPF will see over 2,000 day case procedures undertaken and these procedures will start in March
  • The HSE and the NTPF will work together to utilise capacity in both the public and private sector. Working with the NTPF, the HSE will present an Action Plan on Waiting Lists by the end of the month. This plan will concentrate on reducing the length of time patients wait for an inpatient, day case or outpatient appointment, with the aim of no patient waiting longer than 15 months by the end of October. While the minister considers this is still too long, it would mark a significant reduction in waiting times with an aim of reducing waiting lists further in the next plan
  • Budget 2017 makes provision for the treatment of long-waiting patients. €20m has been allocated to the NTPF rising to €55m in 2018

The moves follow an RTÉ documentary on waiting lists Monday.

It followed two children Darragh (7) and Megan (13) who suffer from scoliosis.

Darragh's condition has steadily deteriorated over the past year and the deformity of his spine has seriously encroached his lungs, making breathing difficult.

Claire and Darragh featured in the RTÉ documentary | Image: RTÉ

Megan's spinal curvature has worsened dramatically in recent times. She now finds it almost impossible to attend school.

In this clip Darragh's mother, Claire Cahill, says his life is made so much harder as a result of not receiving treatment.

Dr Pat Kiely is a children's orthopedic and spinal surgeon specialising in scoliosis.

He told Newstalk Drive earlier this has been an ongoing issue for the last decade.

"What we're talking about is directed and focused resources.

"In our country we'd expect that 200 young people would get scoliosis to the level where it needs surgical intervention.

"The vast majority of people do not need surgical intervention - but there is a number you can predict and that's been independently verified (at) about 200 kids a year.

"We never, in this country, had really a targeted or focused system to provide up to that volume of cases.

"So therefore when we were back in 2007 or thereabouts Crumlin used to provide surgery for 30 to 40 cases a year, but the volume that needed surgery was often one to two cases per week."

In the Dáil earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny denied the waiting list figures are being massaged.

He said they have been calculated the same way for 15 years.

And Mr Kenny said the focus of the Government's efforts will be to ensure no further delays in scoliosis surgeries.

"The focus will be - will be as you request - quite rightly on the issue of scoliosis.

"So that no child will be left with the challenges and the difficulties and the pain that they are left in.

"It's not acceptable.

"(But) the problem is how do you get your theatre, which they taxpayer paid for, open and giving relief and comfort to children who have this particular problem?", he added.