Stephen Donnelly open to widening scope of review of children’s spinal surgeries
By David Young, PA
The Minister for Health has said he is open to widening the scope of an external review of children’s spinal surgeries.
Stephen Donnelly’s comments come amid criticism from some patients’ advocacy groups on the terms of the HSE-commissioned probe.
One group, the Scoliosis Advocacy Network, has called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to become directly involved in shaping the review.
Liverpool-based orthopaedics expert Selvadurai Nayagam has been appointed by the HSE to undertake a review that was triggered by concerns around the post-operative outcomes of several children with serious spinal conditions. All of them had been operated on by a surgeon at Temple Street hospital in Dublin.
The use of a spring-type device in some surgeries is also being examined.
Mr Donnelly said while the safety concerns related to one surgeon, who is no longer carrying out operations, Mr Nayagam had the ability to widen the review.
“I think we need to be clear that the patient safety concerns were raised in connection with one surgeon and a defined number of patients,” he said.
“However, if Dr Nayagam has any cause to believe that that should be expanded, he has full authority to do that.
“And I certainly wouldn’t rule anything like that out, we would fully support that, if that’s what’s required.”
Mr Donnelly, speaking in Dublin on Monday, acknowledged the frustration of some families as he accepted too many children were waiting too long to receive spinal surgery.
Of almost 300 children on a waiting list for spinal surgery, more than 100 have been waiting in excess of the four-month target.
The minister said Mr Nayagam would have the scope to examine services provided by Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) across several hospital sites to identify any ways to help drive down the waiting lists.
“I understand why the families involved, including through the advocacy groups, are so frustrated, because their children, their little boys and girls, have been waiting for years sometimes for surgery that they should never have had to wait for,” said Mr Donnelly.
“And the health consequences for those children can be catastrophic. So, I understand why the parents are angry. I’d be angry if I was one of the patients, they are right to be angry. My promise to them was that we would do everything we can to meet the four-month target.
“Last year, we put in 19 million euro. The number of children being operated on has gone way up on the Covid-era, but also way up on the pre-Covid era, which is important.
“This week, the fifth theatre in Temple Street is opening and the new Children’s Hospital will have a vast increase in services.
“Unfortunately, in spite of that big increase in the number of children being operated on, as the parents quite rightly point out, the waiting lists are still too long, they’re still too big.
“The HSE and Children’s Health Ireland are saying that’s because there’s a higher level of referral than they’ve had previously.
“One of the things I’m asking Dr Nayagam to do is, as well as looking at the clinical issues in Temple Street, is to take a look at the totality of the service across Children’s Health Ireland – Temple Street, Crumlin, Cappagh, they use Blackrock for some surgeries – and to tell me is there anything else we can be doing to make sure that we get down to this four month target.
“Because, ultimately, the only thing that matters is that these boys and girls get this surgery, sometimes very complex surgery, when they need it.
“And, in spite of record investments, in spite of a lot of extra children being seen, unfortunately the waiting lists are not going where they need to go and so the parents are quite right to be pushing.
“Obviously, I meet the advocacy groups. I’ve met them several times before. I’ll be meeting several of them this week.
“And any of the groups and any of the parents who want to meet me, can.
“I’m aware, obviously, that some of them are seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach.
“That’s a matter, obviously, for the Taoiseach. But, regardless, it will fall to me to implement the kind of solutions that we need to see in place on behalf of these boys and girls and young men and women.”