Local TD Denis Naughten has told the Dáil that children’s services throughout the country “are in crisis” and called on the Taoiseach to use the new unit established in his department to focus on improving children’s well-being to prioritise access to such services.
“When the Taoiseach resumed his current role in December, he announced that a unit would be set up within his Department to focus on reducing child poverty and improving well-being in order to make Ireland the best country in Europe in which to be a child. I believe it would help if we started by improving access to necessary therapies through primary care services, including occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy,” Denis Naughten told the Dáil.
“We have all seen the crisis in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, CAMHS, exposed by the Mental Health Commission report, but the reality is that all services for children are in crisis. Two of the most significant battles faced by parents of children with a disability relate to getting a diagnosis and after that long, tortuous process, the second struggle is the inaccessibility of regular supports.”
Denis Naughten highlighted the situation faced by the family of a fourth class child forced to seek all services privately due to the current waiting lists for CAMHS, occupational therapy and educational psychological assessment.
He pointed out that they had been forced to borrow from grandparents to pay for private assessment otherwise the child “would be in secondary school by the time he would get access to an appointment under the current public health system due to the horrendous waiting lists”. He added the same child will likely need access to physiotherapy in a couple of years to assist with his condition, but current waiting lists mean “that he needs to be put on the waiting list now in a pre-emptive move to ensure that he can have access to the services when he needs them”.
“What about the children whose parents or grandparents cannot pay for such interventions? They are at the mercy of the ever-growing public waiting lists. The State is failing in its obligation to provide the early intervention and support that these children urgently need,” outlined Denis Naughten. “Investing in our children at a young age makes much more sense and allows them to reach their full potential and actively contribute to our society. We need to stop these children being effectively hidden away in a corner. In the past, that hiding may have been physical; now it is emotional as their potential wastes away while they wait and wait for access to services. These are the essential services that we must provide to help these children reach their full potential.”
In response, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged “we have a very real problem when it comes to children being able to access the therapies, assessments, treatment and counselling they need. Children are being let down”.
He also committed to addressing the problem as part of the work programme of the child poverty and wellbeing unit being established in his Department.
Editor’s Note: Watch the debate here:
Late last year 436 children in Galway were waiting for a physiotherapy appointment, the longest of whom had been waiting over 3 years. In County Roscommon, a further 95 children were awaiting physiotherapy, with the longest wait time of almost a year.
540 children were awaiting OT in Galway, with wait times of over a year in some cases and a further 115 children in County Roscommon are waiting for occupational therapy appointments, some of whom have been waiting for more than a year.
Waiting lists for speech & language therapy in Roscommon range from 7-11 months for high-priority patients and up to 18 months for low-priority patients.