Thousands of babies across the country have missed out on child development health checks in the first five months of the year, prompting calls for the HSE to set a date for the screening programme to resume.
Figures furnished by the HSE have revealed a backlog in health checks on children aged between 10 and 12 months, which are carried out by public health nurses under the child development health screening programme.
Some 40% fewer babies received the health and development check between January and May this year compared to the same period last year.
Over the first five months of the year, 13,863 children were checked by public health nursing staff compared to 22,714 over the same period last year.
The screening programme was among a range of non-clinical programmes suspended in mid-March when the pandemic struck.
The HSE could not confirm when child development checks would resume but advised co-leader of the Social Democrats, Catherine Murphy, in response to a parliamentary question that “preparatory work” is underway.
It told Ms Murphy that it is a "priority".
The health service said it is planning to resume services under a “formal programme of work” drawn up by the Continuity of System Wide Healthcare Services Steering Group and that child immunisation programmes are being prioritised at present.
Ms Murphy said the figures are “very concerning” and could have long-term consequences for children who missed their health checks and it is unacceptable that no date has been set to resume the programme.
“The volume of checks outstanding compared to 2019 could have a long-term impact. The whole point of these checks is to catch any physical or mental developmental issues early and intervene or put measures in place to assist parents and children, or for the more serious cases, elevate their treatment to specialists,” the Social Democrats co-leader said.
“It is not acceptable that no ambition in relation to the resumption of the checks has been set. The HSE is behind the curve on this as it is only at a preparatory stage in figuring out how it will catch up on the many thousands of now overdue assessments. While the emergence of Covid was a complicating factor, the HSE really needs to lead by example and get these checks done,” she added.