'I cannot sleep with worry,' says mother as doctor who treats daughter's chronic pain leaves

The parents of hundreds of children who suffer agonising chronic pain have spoken about their desperation at the departure of Ireland’s only specialist.

Dr Kevin McCarthy is leaving the chronic pain service in Crumlin and Temple Street Children’s Hospitals, saying inadequate staffing and underfunding had contributed to his decision to quit.

He said since the service was set up four years ago, “the level of service has not matched international best practice or been comparable to that in other countries such as the UK”.

Parents have been left deeply concerned for the future treatment of their children.

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Pam Lynam, from Kilcock, Co Kildare, is mother to Amy (12), who suffers “unimaginable pain” in her hand following a hurling injury.

Ms Lynam said the family feel helpless and in fear for the future of the service provided at Crumlin and Temple Street hospitals.

Underfunded

“I cannot sleep with the worry about Amy’s future. We are in utter fear,” she said.

Dr McCarthy yesterday confirmed to the Irish Independent that he is leaving.

He said: “This vital service has been significantly underfunded to the extent that for several months now, due to nursing staff retirement, I have been running the service with even fewer members, despite an ever-increasing workload.

“This is completely unsustainable and not meeting the needs of the children dependent on receiving access to timely care.

“Without a full team and the funding required to provide the level of service needed, I have taken the difficult decision to step back.”

Eilish Hardiman, the head of the three children’s hospitals, has offered the concerned parents a meeting.

Ms Lynam said they needed to be reassured that a replacement consultant would be quickly recruited and that a proper service to meet the needs of the children is in place in the meantime.

She said: “Amy was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome after a hurling accident in April. “This is a life-changing condition which causes her significant pain every minute of each day.

“In June we were blessed to have a diagnosis and have support for us as a family through Dr McCarthy. This chronic pain unit is so overstretched.

“We have only once met with him but through his team we felt supported and connected and we have been able to change her prescriptions to try to find the right balance for Amy.

“I have no medical background whatsoever but when I take her prescriptions to the local pharmacist they tell me how strong the relief is and it still only dulls her pain.

“We are frantic at his leaving. Amy’s situation is so complex – if she doesn’t go into remission early she is at such risk of suffering for her lifetime.”

A spokeswoman for Children’s Health Ireland, overseeing both hospitals, confirmed the consultant is leaving.

She also said the hospitals needed more support staff for the chronic pain service. She said the plan was to recruit a replacement consultant in 2020.

She said work was under way by Children’s Health Ireland to develop a plan which would be communicated to the families who were using the service.

The matter has also been raised on behalf of the parents by Fianna Fàil Dublin West TD Jack Chambers with Health Minister Simon Harris, who promised that recruiting a replacement pain specialist would begin next year.

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