10,000 children hidden on adult hospital waiting lists

At least 10,000 children are “hidden” on waiting lists and languishing in queues to see a consultant in hospitals around the country.

It means the real figure for children on outpatient waiting lists is nearer 57,000, not the 47,717 reported in official statistics.

The gap is due to the fact that outpatient figures for 23 hospitals report all patients on the lists as adults, although many are children.

It comes as the crisis in outpatient waiting lists deepens, with 556,411 patients of all ages facing delays of more than 18 months before getting a specialist appointment.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which reports monthly on waiting lists, only includes the number of children needing a specialist assessment in the three Dublin children’s hospitals, Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght.

Children in other hospitals are also facing gruelling delays but their numbers are buried in the adult list.

The failure to disclose the true number of waiting children has been highlighted by the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, which represents families of youngsters who suffer from the spinal condition.

“Children are referred to their local hospital first, be it Galway, Cork or Waterford, but they are being counted as adults in the waiting lists,” said spokeswoman Claire Cahill.

She said there were around 1,000 additional children on outpatient waiting lists to see an orthopaedic surgeon, outside of the three children’s hospitals, but the figure was not coming to light.

“The Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon, called for child-specific waiting lists to be released but this has never been done, not just in relation to scoliosis but other conditions,” Ms Cahill added. “The public do not realise the number of children waiting for first appointments is much higher than what is reported monthly.”

Insight into the scale of the queues was revealed when Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte, through a parliamentary question, received a breakdown of the numbers of children waiting for an outpatient appointment in every hospital.

There were 43,316 waiting in the children’s hospitals but the “hidden” figures showed another 10,000 in other hospitals, with many facing delays of over 18 months.

The breakdown revealed that children accounted for as many as 1,397 on the outpatient list at University Hospital Galway and another 1,040 were waiting at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Some 994 children were waiting to see a specialist at Cork University Hospital and 898 at University Hospital Limerick. The figures are likely to have risen since then.

The NTPF declined to say why it was not providing a full picture of children’s waiting lists every month.

The Department of Health said some of the €75m in funding given to the NTPF this year is being used to buy private outpatient appointments for public patients on waiting lists. It will provide 3.3 million outpatient appointments for adults and children.

This year the HSE will focus on specialties with a high volume of referrals and large proportions of long-waiting patients, including in ear, nose and throat and dermatology.

The NTPF will provide an additional 40,000 first outpatient appointments through weekend and out-of-hours clinics and “see and treat” clinics.

It said Children’s Health Ireland had implemented new and innovative initiatives to improve access to outpatient appointment for patients.

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