The care of children with orthopaedic conditions in Ireland has been described as “inadequate” and “chaotic” by specialist consultants.
Consultant paediatric orthopaedic surgeon Connor Green said that children’s future potential is being “destroyed” physically and psychologically by inadequate access to care.
Mr Green, who carries out scoliosis surgery in Cappagh and Temple Street hospitals, made a passionate plea to overhaul the system at the Oireachtas Health Committee.
He told the committee that scoliosis represents about 20 per cent of his practice, and the failures in the system also affect children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, hip deformities and limb deformities.
Prof Green, we are failing our children on every level. “I blame no one except that we don’t have enough resources and everyone is stuck on the new children’s hospital that it’s going to cure all our woes, it won’t, and in the meantime our children are suffering terribly” pic.twitter.com/l0R0cQKXHlAdvertisement
— Access For All Ireland (@AccessForAll7) November 11, 2021
Mr Green told the committee that these children are in so much pain and so ashamed of their appearance that they miss more school than they attend and spend their childhood on waiting lists.
There are currently 43,844 children on the outpatient waiting list.
“The care of children with scoliosis in this country is inadequate. But the care of children with all other orthopaedic conditions is just as bad,” he said.
“I think that it’s dishonest of us in any way to blame the pandemic on the waiting list in scoliosis and in paediatric orthopaedics.
“It’s made it more challenging, certainly, but the numbers were there before it started.”
Mr Green explained that only six out of the eight intensive care beds in Temple Street Hospital are staffed by nurses.
“The reason for that is they can’t get the skilled nursing staff to do it because these nurses aren’t being remunerated and educated and supported appropriately,” he added.
“We need to resource our ICU staffing better, we need to ringfence an intensive care bed before elective surgery, and we need to support our intensivists and recruit more of them in order to look after patients afterwards.”
He rejected claims by the HSE, which blamed excessive waiting lists on the pandemic and cyberattack.
“The unacceptably high wait times were there before either of these events and they have made it worse, but they were there beforehand and nothing was in control before the pandemic,” Mr Green added.
“Nothing was in control before the cyberattack.
“I have said to the people who have issued letters on my waiting list that I do not want that put on the letters because it is dishonest.
“I think one thing people need to be is honest with families. Don’t tell them we’re going to solve this next year. It is not going to be solved next year. It is impossible.
“You will not recruit the number of surgeons, you will not build the infrastructure, you will not put the support in the communities.
“Let families know not to be hanging on.
“I fight one day at a time and I try to get to Friday.”
Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) told the committee that its annual target of carrying out 382 spinal treatments was “decimated” last year due to Covid-19.
It said a total of 322 procedures were carried out.
Eilish Hardiman, chief executive of CHI, said: “We did make progress in early 2021 to recover some of this activity but the cyberattack in May 2021 severely impacted services in CHI.
“We anticipate that this year we will undertake a total of 335 spinal treatments in CHI.”
Orthopaedic consultant Professor Damian McCormack said: “We need staff, we need consultants and nurses. We need sufficient numbers and that needs to be addressed.
“The third issue is we need quality staff. Because one way to ruin a system is to put a bad doctor in – someone who’s not confident or comfortable.
“Every little change now is the butterfly wing. This is creating more chaos, so everything is in flux. Everything is chaotic.”
Hard hitting & sobering remarks by paediatric surgeons Damien McCormack & Conor Green on the issue of scoliosis at Health committee. They talked about woefully inadequate service with dire consequences physically & mentally for children. @rtenews @sinnfeinireland @scolionetwork
— David Cullinane T.D. (@davidcullinane) November 11, 2021
Mr Green said: “Our kids just keep getting sidelined. Entire generations of children who are now growing up. Remember the kids who are paying all our pensions, they are supporting this state in the future, we continue to neglect them now for small investments, then it’s going to be a problem.”
Prof McCormack said that desperate families are seeking treatment in foreign countries.
“It really upsets me when I hear families doing charitable works to gain money to go abroad to private institutions for treatment, some of it is excellent, some of which is completely bogus,” he added.
“Tragic things going on in that regard and it kills me to see it.”
Ms Hardiman apologised to patients and families who are suffering over the waiting lists for paediatric services.
“We do not underestimate in any way the impact this has on them and our intention is to correct this as soon as we can,” she added.