While infants in some parts of the country are not currently receiving developmental checks from their public health nurse as standard, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare has confirmed to the Echo that such checks are going ahead as normal in Cork.
In recent days, it was reported that infants in some areas were no longer receiving standard development checks by a public health nurse in early years due to staffing shortages.
These checks are usually carried out in the first years of life and provide an opportunity for public health nurses to assess that children are meeting expected milestones and growing at a healthy rate.
RTÉ reported how families in some parts of the country were advised that their infants would not be receiving such checks as the public health nurse system in their area was moving to one of "prioritisation", meaning that only young children with proven medical risk or need will be seen.
A HSE spokesperson told the Echo that while many public health nursing staff were redeployed to support Covid-19 related clinical activities during the pandemic, which in turn impacted the services available in certain areas, that these staff have been returning to their core duties, which enables the resumption of a full service.
The HSE spokesperson said however that it is "regrettably still experiencing shortages in the public health nursing service" in parts of the country and where these shortfalls are arising, they are prioritising and supporting patients who have the greatest need in the community.
"At any time, a parent with a concern about their child’s development should contact their GP or local public health nursing service. For home support services for older people requests can be made by a clinician such as a GP, PHN etc., or indeed a self-referral from the client or client’s family.
"These shortfalls will be reduced in the coming months with the appointment of student public health nurses allocated to these areas. In addition, arising from the scale of the recruitment challenges facing the HSE, a new sponsorship scheme for nurses who want to become public health nurses has been developed," a spokesperson said.
Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) has however confirmed that all infants born in Cork are being offered developmental checks.
“We can confirm that no area in Cork and Kerry has switched to a prioritisation system because of vacancy.
“There is just one area across both counties (Kenmare) which temporarily switched to prioritisation for a short period, but this area will revert to standard checks within the next two weeks,” a spokesperson for CKCH said.
Earlier this week, the Children’s Rights Alliance highlighted the importance of such developmental checks in its Child Poverty Monitor - the first, in a series of reports that will analyse the complexity of child poverty across the country.
It noted that the public health nurse sector is under pressure for a number of reasons and highlighted how reduced contact with parents and newborns during the pandemic meant just 55 per cent received a developmental screening within 10 months between July and September 2020.
“In the same period in 2021 this fell to 53.6 per cent. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the rate was 98 per cent,” the report noted.
It recommended an investment in creating a dedicated public health nurse service for children and to develop a strategy for ‘home visits’ to ensure every child has access to prevention and early intervention supports they deserve in their own community.