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Children's health

29th Jun 2023

Teenager left unable to go to school amid five-year wait for spinal surgery

Ellen Fitzpatrick

A teenage girl with cerebral palsy missed out on time in school due to a five-year wait time for spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis.

According to an investigation carried out by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO), the 17-year-old saw her spinal curvature deteriorate from 30 to over 135 degrees in that time.

Taking a toll both physically and mentally, the young girl was left unable to attend school at times, as well as being unable to breathe during the wait, RTÉ has reported.

During this time, she said that she could not meet with friends, go to school or breathe due to the curvature worsening.

The girl ended up having surgery in 2021 which reduced the pain she was in and improved her quality of life, and the OCO determined that the administrative actions of Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) impacted the girl’s life significantly.

Now making seven recommendations, they include that the CHI carries out an audit of the waiting list for children’s scoliosis care and allow a caregiver or GP to initiate a review of their own care.

OCO Director of Investigations Nuala Ward said that the case is being published on behalf of the 309 children and their families who are still waiting for scoliosis treatment despite the Government promising that no child would be waiting for more than four months.

“In 2018, we raised serious concerns about the children in Ireland waiting for scoliosis and they have been repeatedly promised that no child will wait longer than four months for this surgery,” she said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ward also said that this case came to the attention of the Ombudsman in 2020 after the family raised concerns over their daughter’s deteriorating health.

“We sought records in relation to how did all the specialists come together to plan for her care and we couldn’t find it,” she said.

“She ended up only going to school for two or one days a week … she told us about how she struggled to breathe.

“So, this is a dangerous waiting list that really needs to be tackled head on in the best interest of the children that are waiting, and the families are suffering such distress every day.”

The CHI has since said in a statement that they fully accept the report and are committed to maintaining the the best quality care.