We can’t allow Covid to disadvantage children: Warning on growing waiting lists 

We can’t allow Covid to disadvantage children: Warning on growing waiting lists 

Thousands of children and teenagers are on waiting lists for crucial therapies, according to the latest HSE figures.

THE HSE has been urged to refocus efforts on tackling waiting lists for vital therapies in Cork amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thousands of children and teenagers are on waiting lists for crucial therapies, according to the latest HSE figures.

The HSE acknowledged the pandemic has had a “significant impact” on waiting lists for some therapies, and that although services have reopened, they are limited due to the ongoing restrictions.

Almost 2,500 children under the age of 18 in Cork were on waiting lists for occupational therapy at the end of July, according to information obtained by The Echo. More than half of these have been waiting for over a year.

Meanwhile, thousands of children were also on waiting lists for speech and language therapy (SLT) in the region. Waiting list figures for the end of July show that 741 children were awaiting an initial SLT assessment.

Some 1,698 were on waiting lists for initial therapy and a further 2,216 were on waiting lists for further therapy. Almost 1,000 of the children awaiting SLT therapy have been waiting over a year.

Cork GP John Sheehan urged the HSE to refocus on waiting lists in these areas, saying children cannot be disadvantaged in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Over the last six months, a lot of these services have been curtailed or seen staff redeployed due to Covid-19,” said Dr Sheehan. “That has led to these waiting lists.

“These waiting lists have continued to grow during the pandemic and the challenge now is to tackle them. Covid is going to be with us for a good period of time and we can’t allow it to disadvantage children, who get one shot at their development during their childhood period.

“If they can’t get the services they need at an early age, it makes it harder to catch up later in life.”

The North Lee area appears to be the most severely affected in Cork in terms of therapy waiting lists.

More than 760 children from North Lee have been waiting a year for OT services while there were more than 900 in total awaiting SLT services.

“We know from lots of evidence and research that there is a greater need for these services in areas that are deprived,” Dr Sheehan said. “This is due to many factors but one is the lack of financial ability to access private services so they’re more dependent on public services.

“When they can access services they’re great, but it’s accessing them that is the issue at times.”

A HSE spokeswoman told The Echo Covid-19 has had a “significant impact” on waiting lists for these services.

“For 17 weeks, the provision of both occupational therapy and speech and language therapy for children effectively stopped, as only urgent, time-critical services were delivered,” she said.

“Although services are now being restored, there are still a number of challenges, including the fact that staff from both these services were re-deployed to Covid-19 testing.

“While a recruitment process for swabbers is advancing, due to the exceptionally high level of demand for Covid testing it has been possible to return only limited numbers of staff to their substantive posts.

“In addition, measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 has meant that therapists can’t see as many people.”

The spokeswoman said the HSE South has introduced the Attend Anywhere telemedicine platform, which has allowed people to access services from their homes.

“This has meant that although the activity levels are reduced substantially for the reasons outlined above, the activity of the therapists available to work on the waiting lists is being maximised,” she said.

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