One in 12 children in Ireland is currently on a hospital waiting list.
New figures from the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) show nearly 100,000 children are on a hospital waiting list.
Some 37,700 have been waiting longer than one year for care, while 27,700 have been waiting longer than 18 months.
Meanwhile, almost 3,000 children were waiting to access mental health services in September – the highest figures since 2015.
On Breakfast Briefing this morning, Temple Street Hospital Paediatrics Consultant Dr Ike Okafor said the waiting lists risk can cause long-lasting damage to children’s physical and mental health.
“A 40-year-old waiting a year is not the same thing as a three-year-old child waiting a year,” he said.
“Also, you have to understand that, when children are waiting there is likely to be a worsening of their condition which makes it much more important that children are not waiting long to get the care they need.”
Dr Okafor said the long waiting lists are forcing families to bring their children to Emergency Departments for urgent care.
“No child should have to wait more than six weeks to get any kind of healthcare intervention,” he said.
“The longer they wait, the more protracted their condition actually becomes. Long waiting times are not just an issue for children’s physical or mental health, it’s about their social health as well - often they are not able to play with their peers, they’re not spending time in school and these are really fundamental parts of their lives.”
He said the mental health waiting lists are particularly concerning.
At the start of the pandemic, when presentations at Dublin’s three paediatric hospital emergency departments fell by 34%, mental health presentations increased by 9%.
Meanwhile, Temple Street has seen an eight-fold increase in mental health presentations since 2006.
“The pandemic has led to a massive increase in children presenting with acute mental health problems, especially eating disorders and self-harm,” said Dr Okafor. “A system that was already under pressure, not just in hospitals, but in the community has suddenly gone into crisis mode.
“Children are waiting longer and longer to see psychologists and psychiatrists and that’s a problem.”
He said children’s health has been consistently underfunded in Ireland and urged all stakeholders to come together to make healthcare better, more accessible, more equitable so that if a child needs care, they can get it”.