The Government is under pressure to recruit extra staff and provide adequate funding as almost 4,000 children are waiting longer than the legal requirement for initial assessments.
The number of children waiting longer than the recommended three-month guideline increased by 23% between October and December 2016, figures show.
There were 3,960 children overdue for assessment at the end of 2016, with 1,732 in the Cork/Kerry region.
Mr McGrath said the figures are too high and action is needed. “I am making reducing these waiting lists my priority in 2017,” he said.
The figures were released to Fianna Fáil’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, who said she was “troubled” by the rising waiting periods.
She called on Mr McGrath to urgently recruit more staff.
“We need to remember that these waiting periods aren’t about starting treatment; it’s worse; it’s about being assessed in the first place,” she said.
“Without an assessment of needs, children with disabilities cannot access basic services such as speech and language therapy, or obtain SNA support while in school.”
Under the Disability Act 2005, children must receive an initial assessment of needs within three months of receipt of an application and a complete assessment within a further three months.
The chief executive of autism charity Shine, Kieran Kennedy, said : “As an organisation we are troubled and concerned by the ongoing situation that has been present for years and is only getting worse.”
He said that even when a child is assessed, in many cases the resources are not available to provide the proper services and supports.
The HSE said it faces “significant challenges in respect of meeting the statutory time-frames which apply to the assessment of need process”.
Ms Murphy O’Mahony said: “This just isn’t good enough, and the increase in figures underlines the general rollback in access to services that people with disabilities, and in particular children, have suffered.
“There is clearly a lack of staff working in the assessments section, and this needs to be urgently addressed.
“We owe it to the children, and their families, to fix this problem, and ensure that they can access the treatments they need as quickly as possible.”
The HSE said targeted action plans have been in place since 2011 and measures have included prioritising assessments, holding additional clinics, and reconfiguring resources to target areas of greatest need.