'Children being treated like numbers, not people': 10,000 children in Cork on waiting lists

Parents are taking to the streets to ensure their children get occupational, psychological, and speech therapy, says Darragh Bermingham
'Children being treated like numbers, not people': 10,000 children in Cork on waiting lists

Data from the HSE obtained by Labour TD Seán Sherlock shows that more than 10,000 children across Cork were on waiting lists for various therapies at the end of May.

THE Covid-19 pandemic, the cyber attack on the HSE, and recruitment difficulties have all increased waiting lists across Cork, according to the HSE, which is addressing the situation.

Data from the HSE obtained by Labour TD Seán Sherlock shows that 10,000 children across Co Cork were on waiting lists for vital therapies, including psychology, occupational therapy, and speech-and-language therapy, at the end of May this year.

2,400 children in the county were on waiting lists for psychology services at the end of May this year, the largest cohort in Ireland. 800 had been waiting more than a year.

Cork also had the largest child-occupational therapy waiting list, with 2,518 awaiting treatment. 800 had been waiting longer than 12 months.

600 children in Cork were awaiting physiotherapy treatment at the end of May this year, with 75 on the waiting list for more than a year.

In terms of speech-and-language therapy waiting lists in Cork, 1,310 children were awaiting initial assessment, 1,527 were awaiting initial therapy, and 1,540 were awaiting further therapy.

While no children were waiting longer than a year for initial assessment, 500 were waiting more than a year for initial therapy and a further 258 were waiting more than a year for further therapy.

Meanwhile, 3,000 children are also on waiting lists for initial contact from the Child Disability Network Team (CDNT), a scheme that was rolled out by the HSE last year to provide a range of supports to children with complex needs and to their families.

CDNTs are teams of health and social-care professionals, including nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, speech-and-language therapists, social workers, and others.

Protest

Cork parents will take to the streets today to highlight the crisis in children’s disability services.

Fuss (Families Unite for Services and Support) has organised a day of action, with demonstrations on the city’s Grand Parade from 2pm.

This is the third protest the group of parents and families have staged in Cork, the last held earlier this summer, as the parents and families continue to fight for better disability services for their children.

Speaking to The Echo, Karen O’Mahony, founder of the Rainbow Club in Cork, highlighted the need for urgent action to address waiting times.

The Rainbow Club, founded in 2015, provides vital services to 1,000 children with autism and their families, facilitating access to occupational therapy, speech-and-language therapy, and other supports.

When asked about the latest waiting-list figures, Ms O’Mahony said that “more needs to be done and disability services should be a priority for this government, and moved to the minister for disability.

“Cork is a hotspot, with some of the largest waiting lists, and yet we constantly hear that recruitment is an issue.

“Private therapies are available and the cost is high, but therapists are going to the private sector,” she said. “It is time that the people in this country who are the most vulnerable are put first and that our children are protected by this government.

“It is not acceptable that our children and young adults are treated like numbers and not people.”

'Each figure represents a child'

Cork Labour TD Seán Sherlock (Lab) added:“It’s vital that in interrogating these figures, we never lose sight that each figure represents a child and family struggling to understand why they must wait so long. We must never lose sight of that.

“What we need is the political powers to allocate funding that will not only directly reduce the waiting list, but provide actual therapy to those who need it,” he added.

“We cannot countenance therapists being wrapped up in bureaucracy when they should be providing therapy.”

In response to Mr Sherlock, a spokesperson for the HSE said the health service acknowledges the challenges in meeting the demand for children’s disability services and is acutely conscious of how this impacts children and their families.

Recruitment efforts

A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare explained that the Covid-19 pandemic, the HSE cyber attack, and recruitment issues have all impacted waiting lists across Cork and Ireland.

The spokesperson said that recruitment efforts are under way, along with efforts to ensure increased care within the community, based on the needs of the individual, in line with Sláintecare.

“While the demand for all services continues to grow, as demonstrated in the increased number of referrals, it is hoped that the introduction of a centralised waiting list, waiting-list initiatives, and other service improvements will improve equity of access to all services and help reduce the overall waiting times for patients requiring treatment in both Cork and Kerry.”

The spokesperson added that “recruitment is, and will be, an issue for the Enhanced Community Care (ECC) Programme, along with other programmes and recruitment challenges in the HSE”.

“Presently, a national campaign remains ongoing for multiple disciplines,” she said. 

“In addition, a local campaign with a robust communication drive to maximise out on attracting eligible candidates is being pursued in the hope that this, and other vacancies throughout Cork Kerry Community Healthcare, can be filled. In order to address the current waiting list, there is a necessity to have these critical posts filled.”

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