Some of the 12,000 children and adults on waiting lists for arthritis treatment will gather outside Leinster House today to ask election candidates to back their call for more staffing resources.
Arthritis Ireland’s campaign, called Why Are We Waiting?, comes against a backdrop of 1,400 adults and 81 children waiting over a year to access a rheumatology consultant, often amid crippling pain.
The charity said there are 152 children waiting more than nine months to see a consultant paediatric rheumatologist in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
Best practice guidelines recommend that children be seen within six weeks of the onset of symptoms. Failure to diagnose juvenile arthritis at its onset can lead to permanent joint damage for a child.
The charity will call on general election candidates to support its plan to reduce waiting lists.
The plan calls for the next government to commit, within its first 100 days, to the appointment of 100 people, including six consultant rheumatologists. Ireland currently has 33.5 specialist consultants, well below the World Health Organisation standard of 45 for the size of our population. Arthritis Ireland is also calling for 29 clinical nurse specialists, 12 advanced nurse practitioners, 21 physiotherapists, and 32 occupational therapists.
Amie Forde, a 17-year-old Leaving Certificate student from Cork who has arthritis and is on several waiting lists for treatment, said there were times when her pain got so bad that she had to be carried around her house “and spoon-fed by someone else because my body couldn’t carry me and my hands couldn’t take holding a spoon or a fork”.
Amie said: “I’ve had arthritis since I was two years old. Life has been a bit of a battle for me. I have been in a lot of pain and haven’t had a childhood like normal people. It’s been a long road of appointments and waiting lists for nothing to be done.”
Her chronic condition means she has missed a lot of school and, with her Leaving Certificate on the cards, she has started home tuition.
“I only have to go as far as the kitchen. It’s helped my health a lot but on the social side you lose a lot of friends just from not being at school.”
Every week, Amie attends physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy at Cork University Hospital. She said the hydro pool “helps a lot, but I was a long time on a waiting list to get the treatment. It took nearly two years.”
Amie is on three waiting lists for specialists to treat various symptoms of her arthritis and believes it could be “anything up to two years” before she is seen.
While seven rheumatology consultant posts have been created nationally in recent times, leading to a 40% increase in activity levels in rheumatology outpatients clinics, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said “a lot more” will need to be appointed to address a backlog.
Arthritis Ireland estimates the 100 additional posts would cost about €7m yearly. “At the moment, arthritis and other musculo-skeletal conditions cost the State more than €700m in lost days at work alone,” a spokesperson said.
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