Varadkar told he has abandoned commitments on children’s health

The Dail is to vote on a motion relating to a taskforce for children’s orthopaedic care.

The Government appears to have abandoned its commitments on children’s health, the Labour Party has said.

It comes after the announcement that the health service has been asked to carry out an audit relating to children’s orthopaedic care.

In 2017, then-minister for Health Simon Harris set a target that no child would be waiting longer than four months for scoliosis surgery.

However, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was “utterly scandalous” that there are more children on scoliosis-related waiting lists now than when that commitment was made.

During Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Ms McDonald said: “Of all of the broken promises by your Government, I think it’s one of the most callous.”

She said it was unacceptable that there were 327 children on waiting lists for scoliosis-related surgery, a number disputed by the Government.

Ms McDonald said everyone must do everything they can to end the waiting lists.

She raised the example of 10-year-old Kylie Ann from Donegal who she said had been waiting for life-changing surgery for five years.

“Kylie-Ann’s mother has challenged all of us in here to see Her as she sees her: With love.

“To give her the chance and the quality of life that she deserves – and I think we should meet that challenge.”

On Tuesday, the health minister said he wanted the HSE’s internal audit teams to examine how a 19 million euro allocation in 2022 was used.

Stephen Donnelly said the state had failed “far too many” children in need of orthopaedic care.

Sinn Fein has brought a motion calling on the Government to establish an independent taskforce to review scoliosis and spina bifida services.

The Government tabled a countermotion which, while recognising delays for spinal surgery remain too long, said the Government is committed to improving waiting times.

The Dail was due to vote on the motion later on Wednesday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar guaranteed Ms McDonald that adequate services for child spinal surgery would never be an issue “simply of money or political will”.

He gave a further assurance that he would do everything he could to find out why the issue had yet to be fixed.

However, he said it would take more than the returning lifetime of the current Government for waiting lists to be fully addressed.

Additionally, Mr Varadkar said he had been advised by the Department of Health that Sinn Fein had miscalculated the waiting lists figure at 327.

He said: “Waiting lists have gone down.

“As at the end of last year 78 patients were on the active waiting list, which was a reduction, and 231 are awaiting spinal procedures.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said she had heard “harrowing” accounts of children being denied care in the health system.

She said: “Some parents even driven to posting social media videos of their young children sobbing with pain through the night in a desperate effort to secure appropriate health care.”

Ms Bacik also noted that the Children’s Rights Alliance had given the Government an “unacceptable” ‘E’ grade on access to children’s mental health services.

She said there was a “national disgrace” in waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services.

She added: “It appears the government had quietly abandoned commitments you have made on children’s health.”

However, Mr Varadkar said Ireland is a “very good country” in which to raise a child.

He said it was in the “top 10 or 20” in most measures, pointing to maternal and neonatal health services, infant mortality rates, and education outcomes.

The Taoiseach defended the Government’s record on children by saying the Children’s Rights Alliance had not decreased its grade on any of the 16 categories year on year.

He added: “But I absolutely believe that’s not good enough, because my ambition is something more: It’s for this to be the best country in the world in which to be a child, bar none.”