Four hospitals in Britain, Germany and France have been engaged by the HSE to treat children with scoliosis, it has emerged.
So far this year 272 scoliosis operations have been carried out in public hospitals in Ireland and a specialist orthopaedic hospital in London.
HSE director general, Tony O’Brien, told the Oireachtas joint committee on health that it had secured additional capacity in three private hospitals overseas.
The health authority’s objective is to ensure that, by the end of the year, no child has to wait more than four months for scoliosis treatment. The HSE action plan estimates that 447 procedures will need to be performed to meet the target.
“Our plan is to offer a further 173 procedures by the year-end in order to meet the target of four months,” said Mr O’Brien.
“We are urging patients and their families to take up these option for immediate treatment, given the constraints in the Irish paediatric hospitals.”
The national director of the HSE’s acute hospitals division, Liam Woods, said tenders had been completed with hospitals in Germany, France and London in the last month.
Mr Woods said the HSE was already working with Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital in London and could trade on a parallel basis with the public health facility. They had also increased capacity in both adult and children’s hospitals in Dublin to treat children with scoliosis.
Out-patient clinics had been arranged to assess the appropriate location of treatment for children. Mr Woods said two children had gone to Germany this week to be treated.
Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly asked if he was confident that the HSE would hit the target at the end of the year.
Mr Woods said it would depend on the choice made by the families involved. “We will be in a position that we will have offered treatment to all of the people who are waiting,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said that hospital emergency departments were reporting a 2% increase in the number of patients attending for treatment up to September, compared to last year.
There is an increase in the number of patients aged 75 and over attending emergency departments. Hospitals, on average, were reporting a 5% increase in the number of older patients attending emergency departments. Some hospitals had experienced a rise over 10%.
Mr O’Brien said at any one time 140 beds could be closed for infection control, essential refurbishment and staffing reasons. Despite the pressure on emergency departments, trolley performance was equivalent to last year with 98% of patients discharged or admitted within 24 hours.
Mr O’Brien said hospital groups and community healthcare organisations were finalising their winter plans, with provision made for surge capacity, additional home supports and transitional care beds.
At a meeting with senior managers and clinicians on Monday, he would be ensuring that every arrangement for winter was in place and to “build on learning” from previous years.
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