Thousands of Children Left Waiting for Health Services
Postcode Lottery Means Significant Regional Variations
Barnardos is calling on the Government to urgently address the lengthy waits for essential public health services experienced by thousands of children across the country. Reviewing the most recent waiting list data available from the HSE, Barnardos is highlighting widespread regional inconsistencies in the time children are left to wait for speech and language services, child and adolescent mental health services and disability assessments. The charity is also looking for parents of children affected by lengthy waits for public health services to share their experience with the organisation.
June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos said: “Children experience a rate of development unparalleled in their lifetime. Significant delays in accessing treatment can have profound, long lasting impact on a child’s health, development and well-being. Lack of treatment can tragically result in a childhood lost. While there has been some progress in reducing the number of children waiting over a year in a few regions, our latest review of waiting list data confirms an ongoing crisis in key service areas.
“While Barnardos welcomes a sizable decrease (30% between September 2017 and March 2018) in the number of children waiting for speech and language therapy, there have unfortunately been simultaneous increases in the number of children waiting for speech and language assessment and further treatment. In total there are 29,481 children waiting for speech and language services across the country, 1,567 of those have been waiting over a year. There are also huge regional variations in service provision and wait times, the South of the country seems to be a particular blackspot. Children in an area with a high level of service delays could be waiting more than four years to fully avail of speech and language therapy – these kind of waits will have a devastating impact on a child’s ability to communicate for the rest of their life.”
“My child waited 9 months to be seen by a Speech and Language Therapist, he has never spoken a word at the age of 2 1/2 years. The therapist noted he had a disorder not a delay but made no diagnosis, simply placed him back on the list for another 12 months and placed him on a list for therapy that is 7 to 9 months long.” – Parent
Ms. Tinsley continued: “Having a child’s disability needs assessed is the first stage in getting a child the support they need for a disability or developmental issue. There is a statutory requirement that all assessments are carried out within six months. In March 2018 there were 4,242 children waiting for assessment of need to be carried out. Of these, 4,104 children (80%), have been waiting longer than three months.
“In March 2018 there were 2,691 children waiting for mental health services, a 15% increase since September 2017. This increase is accompanied, in most areas, by a rise in the number of children waiting longer than one year, with almost 14% now waiting more than a year for an initial appointment. It is not difficult to imagine the damage which is being done by forcing children to wait any amount of time for mental health services and support – let alone over a year. Where a child lives tragically seems to dramatically impact how quickly they receive support – 32.4% of children waiting for services in the south west (CHO4) have been waiting over a year for mental health services, whereas no children have been left waiting over a year in North Dublin (CHO9). The South East (CH05) is facing a serious crisis where three psychiatrists are resigning next month due to safety concerns, potentially resulting in no child and adolescent mental health services in this region.”
“My child is struggling every day and we have no idea how long we have to wait to see professionals to help.” - Parent
Ms Tinsley added: “All children deserve equal access to healthcare, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. The present regional variations in service delivery means children are effectively entered into a lottery for support – the outcome determined by their Eircode. Unnecessary and preventable damage is being done to children who are forced to wait for essential healthcare, this is wholly unacceptable. Barnardos proposes a number of policy recommendations which if implemented would effectively tackle waiting lists. As part of this campaign, we are looking for parents and families to share their stories and experiences of being left to wait for child health services. By going to our website barnardos.ie/waiting, parents can share their story anonymously – we plan to use these stories to paint a picture of the real impact of waiting lists on children, and to further push the Government to take action.”
Note to editor:
Barnardos believes that as a matter of urgency, the following actions must be taken to tackle the child waiting list crisis:
- Where recruitment of personnel is an issue review entry criteria for and invest in additional places on training courses.
- Invest €5 million to increase the number of Speech and Language Therapists by 100 to reduce waiting list backlog for speech and language assessment and treatment.
- Guarantee one Primary Care Team with a full complement of multidisciplinary professionals for every 1,500 children.
- Expand the Counselling in Primary Care Service to provide counselling in the community for children and young people.
- Ensure referral pathways and criteria are clearly defined for GPs and other health and social care personnel. Create a resource for parents which outlines what services are available and how to access them.
- Tackle regional disparities by modifying the resource allocation model in line with the reality that the prevalence of conditions such as speech and language difficulties, dyslexia and communication or coordination disorders is much higher among low income groups.
- Develop 24/7 crisis intervention mental health services across the country.