Family has ‘no option’ but to move abroad for life-saving spinal surgery

Over 300 children are on a waiting list for spinal surgery in Ireland.
Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

16.12 7 Feb 2024

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Family has ‘no option’ but to...

Family has ‘no option’ but to move abroad for life-saving spinal surgery

Robert Kindregan
Robert Kindregan

16.12 7 Feb 2024

Share this article

An Irish family say they have “no other option” but to move abroad so their child can access life-saving spinal surgery.

Eight-year-old Harvey was born with Spina bifida and Scoliosis which has got progressively worse over the years.

His mum Gillian Sherratt told Lunchtime Live today that the curvature of his spine is now at 86 degrees, well above the 50-degree benchmark for what is considered an emergency.


Ms Sherratt said the pressure on her son’s lungs is getting worse “as the curvature gets worse”.

“It’s causing permanent damage,” she said.

“We’ve been told the surgery will prevent his lungs from getting worse, but it won’t be able to bring back the lung function he is losing on a day-to-day basis.

“Once you get to the 80-degree mark it starts causing a lot of damage to your pulmonary system, like your heart and lungs.”


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Harvey’s care is currently being handled by Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) which is struggling to find surgeons at the moment, according to Ms Sherratt.

“The surgeon at the centre of all of this ceased doing these complex spinal surgeries 18 months ago and we still don’t have a date, she said.

“CHI still hasn’t brought in another surgeon to even start any of these cases.

“Even if a new surgeon does come in - or the surgeon in question takes back up his post - we have no way of knowing where Harvey lies on the list.

“Harvey is severe but he is only one case and there are kids out there in worse situations than him.”


Running out of options, Ms Sherratt said she will likely be forced to move abroad for Harvey to have his operation.

“We’re considering Liverpool,” she said.

“We have a huge amount of security here as Harvey is in a great school, we have a roof over our head and we’re beside our family.

“But at the end of the day, if Harvey isn’t getting the medical attention he needs, we don’t really have the option of staying here – that’s what comes first.”

Systemic issues

Aaron Daly, who faced a similar situation with his daughter Sofia a number of years ago, said there are systemic issues in Ireland in relation to healthcare.

“International best practice is you have surgery within four months and then that controls the condition and lets it go,” he said.

“But in Ireland, what we’re doing is leaving children waiting.

“When Sofia was waiting last in 2015 there were 184 children on the list and there’s nearly 320 on that list today.

“After all the investment, all the promises, all the political gas that went with it – the list is nearly twice as big as it was then.”

'Really sick'

Mr Daly said Sofia had to become “really sick” in order for her to be seen by a surgeon in Ireland.

“Once [her scoliosis] started to rapidly progress they took her in,” he said.

“Sofia is a lot better now and she has actually just turned 18, but because she was left so long, she was left permanently disfigured.

“Her spine is in a C shape now because they couldn’t correct it into a straight shape and it restricts everything from her head movement to her cough.”

Mr Daly added that “there are a lot of consequences” to the delay in Sofia’s surgery.

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Main image: Eight-year-old Harvey has scoliosis and is currently on a waiting list for spinal surgery in Ireland. Image: Supplied.

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CHI Children's Health Ireland Gillian Sherratt Harvey Health Hse Nhs Scoliosis Spinal Surgery

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