2017 March

Watchdog criticises unacceptable delays for scoliosis surgery

Posted on 20, Mar 2017

Four-month maximum waiting time complies with best practice, says ombudsman

No child with scoliosis should have to wait for surgery more than four months, according to a report by the Ombudsman for Children that criticises “unacceptable” delays by Government in providing treatment.

Delays and a failure by Government to adequately address the issue of access to scoliosis treatment is impacting on the rights of children and young people, the report to be launched by ombudsman Niall Muldoon today will say.

Dr Muldoon says every child has a right to the highest attainable standard of health but this is not being respected for young people with the condition, which involves a sideways curvature of the spine.

“Due to their age and stage of development, young people with scoliosis are suffering severe physical and psychological effects as a result of the delays they experience. This should not be acceptable in Ireland 2017.”

The report says a four-month maximum waiting time between the time surgery is clinically determined and the operation is in line with recent Government commitments and complies with international best practice.

Some 119 children with scoliosis have been on the waiting list for more than six months, and 46 are on the list for more than a year, recent figures show. Successive governments have promised action to cut waiting times for surgery but to little effect.

Operating theatre

A new operating theatre was commissioned in Our Lady’s children’s hospital in Crumlin last year but could not be used until now due to staff recruitment issues.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised the Health Service Executive will meet the four-month target by the end of this year.

The testimonies of young people that feature in the report highlight the physical, mental and education impact of delays in treatment. “The whole waiting process made me very sad all the time, I didn’t like leaving the house or looking in the mirror. I felt trapped in my own head, nobody else I knew looked like me,” says Jane.

Meanwhile, Harriet says: “The lowest point of all for me was in August 2014. I was going into fifth year and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do my Leaving Cert.”

Dr Muldoon says long-term planning and strategic thinking is needed to address the issue. A clear picture is also needed of existing capacity and the available of resources.


Child-specific waiting lists should be published for all healthcare services in Ireland, the ombudsman recommends, with targets for maximum outpatients waiting times. Reports monitoring these targets should be published quarterly.

“It is also time to consider child-friendly budgeting, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Beginning in the health sector, we should know how much of the budget is being spent on children, and plans for their needs should be put in place.

“Children and young people must be heard on this issue, but listening to their views is not enough. We must acknowledge that delays in accessing scoliosis treatment are directly affecting children’s lives and the enjoyment of their right to health, education and to development.

“The cycle of crisis managing this issue must end with a long-term sustainable plan that has a real impact on young people, and that promotes their rights to the highest attainable standard of health.”


(Published by the Irish Times on the 20th March 2017)