Cork boy waiting six years after diagnosis for first x-ray 

The Blarney youngster, who uses a wheelchair, also has intellectual disabilities.
Cork boy waiting six years after diagnosis for first x-ray 

Michael Barry at home near Blarney. Picture Denis Minihane.

A CORK child with intellectual and physical disabilities was left waiting six years for the first X-ray on his back after being diagnosed with scoliosis.

The long wait has been revealed as Cork Kerry Community Healthcare has admitted that staff vacancies are impacting service availability.

Michael Barry, 10, was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of four.

The Blarney youngster, who uses a wheelchair, also has intellectual disabilities.

Despite being diagnosed with scoliosis six years ago, Michael underwent his first x-ray for the condition in October, 2022.

Speaking to The Echo, his mother Orla Christian described services and staff on the ground as scarce, and the situation for children attempting to access services as scary.

Although Michael was diagnosed with scoliosis six years ago, it was noted in 2021 that his spine had begun to curve severely. However, the youngster was made to wait another year before his first X-ray and is now left waiting to hear if or when he might need surgery.

“We are waiting for our consultant to come down in the new year to the clinic he does in Cork,” Orla explained.

Michael’s orthopaedic surgeon said he’s not sure if he can go for surgery just yet, they might wait to see if it gets worse. “I’ve no idea why we’re waiting - it’s ridiculous.” 

Orla explained that, in the meantime, Michael has outgrown his wheelchair but has to wait until after his consultant appointment to be assessed for a new one.

“Michael is in pain, every morning there’s pain,” she said.

“It’s 100 percent to do with his spine. “It’s causing him so much discomfort and it’s been noted by his teacher and his SNA that he’s leaning to his side in his wheelchair and he won’t sit up straight any more because of the pain.

“The staff are worried and I am too that if he’s not seen to, it will only get worse,” she added.

In recent weeks, Michael underwent a hip release surgery to aid with his condition, but only after Orla was reassured her son would get the necessary post-operation support he required.

“Michael underwent the same surgery last year but got very little support afterwards, only the splints, and it didn’t really have a big improvement,” she explained.

“I made sure that, after his hip release surgery this time, Michael would be guaranteed hydrotherapy and a block placement of physio post-surgery, as well as splints. “His hydrotherapy will begin in the new year and I’ve taken him to private physiotherapy,” she added. “I can already see the difference it’s making this time around.

Michael Barry at home with his mother Orla Christian.
Michael Barry at home with his mother Orla Christian.

“At the start of the session, Michael was unable to stand up straight off the bench but 45 minutes later, he was standing up straighter - it was a huge difference.

“If that can happen in 45 minutes, imagine what could happen if the services were there regularly.

“The staff on the ground and the services are scarce, and it’s scary.” Before Michael was born, doctors warned Orla that he may not survive or even live long.

“Before he was born, we were told to prepare for the worst,” Orla explained. “When he went back to see the neurosurgeon when Michael was one year old, the surgeon said he was surprised to see us and that Michael had been sent home palliatively.

“So Michael has had to fight and we’ve been fighting for services for 10 years.

“Early intervention was there when he was growing up but now there just seems to be none,” she added. “If I had Michael now, he wouldn’t be getting the services he did when he was growing up.

“There is just no early intervention, it doesn’t exist any more because there just isn’t enough staff on the ground.” Orla also highlighted the negative impact that taking therapists out of school settings has had on Michael and other children in similar situations.

Under the HSE’s Progressing Disability Services (PDS) plan, many therapists, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, were removed from schools across Cork and Ireland earlier this year, including St Paul’s Special School in Montenotte, where Michael attends.

The children in need of services were referred to Children’s Disability Network Teams (CDNTs), the aim of which is to provide multidisciplinary therapy services to children in need in their communities and local areas.

CDNTs are teams of health and social care professionals, including nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, social work and others.

However, the move to remove therapists from special schools was met with a backlash from parents of children with additional needs who felt the support in schools was a vital resource.

While Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte pledged to return therapists to special schools across Ireland in September, Orla said St Paul’s are still waiting for that to happen.

When the move first happened, Orla was among the first to highlight concerns with Minister Rabbitte.

“The teachers and SNAs are great but they cannot do what an occupational therapist, speech and language therapist or physiotherapist can do in schools. “They haven't been reinstated yet.” While Michael has been seen by the physiotherapist on his CDNT, he is still awaiting speech and language, and occupational therapy services.

Orla highlighted the need for these services to return to school settings across Ireland to ensure children can get timely access.

The Echo revealed in recent weeks that thousands of children are on waiting lists for CDNTs in the Cork/Kerry region, and that these teams are dealing with complaints due to a lack of resources.

More than 2,200 children in Cork and Kerry were on waiting lists for CDNTs at the end of September this year.

Information obtained from the HSE shows that 2,257 children were on CDNT waiting lists in CHO 4 at the end of September this year.

More than 1,400 of these children had been waiting for over a year.

In recent months, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare revealed that CDNTs in Cork were facing high numbers of complaints from service users and partners in the health and education sector due to a lack of resources.

A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare highlighted challenges in the form of higher than predicted caseloads, a lack of suitable workspaces, resources and admin support, as well as no suitable integrated information management system.

Meanwhile, the staff vacancy rate for CDNTs across Cork/Kerry stood at 18 percent at the end of August this year.

In a statement to this reporter, the HSE said it “acknowledges the challenges in meeting the demand for children’s disability services and is acutely conscious of how this impacts on children and their families”.

The HSE, Department of Health and Children’s Health Ireland were contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare:

“The Community Disability Network Teams (CDNTs) in the Cork region and nationally have a high number of vacancies due to the challenges in recruiting therapy staff of all disciplines.

“This impacts on availability of services and regrettably leads to delay in access for children.”

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