A number of local healthcare organisations are unable to put a number on their waiting lists for children seeking occupational therapy, because their staff have been redeployed in the fight against Covid-19.
Neither Sligo/Leitrim nor Limerick LHOs were in a position to respond to a request for information regarding the size of their lists, with their entry being marked a blanket zero by the HSE.
“Please note the list of LHO areas… which did not return data, as some areas were not in a position to return data due to staff being redeployed to Covid-19 related duties,” the HSE said, in response to a parliamentary question from Labour TD Sean Sherlock.
Such transferring of staff has become commonplace since the pandemic began, with people being moved to swabbing centres or redeployed to make contact tracing calls in an effort to lower testing and tracing times.
Leaving aside the two LHOs which did not submit a response, there are currently 21,286 children under the age of 17 waiting for a first occupational therapy assessment.
Just under half of that number, or 10,455 children, have been waiting for more than 12 months.
The LHO with by some distance the worst waiting list meanwhile is Laois/Offaly, with 2,722 children awaiting an appointment, 1,488 of them for more than a year.
Occupational therapy is chiefly concerned with helping people to participate, or regain the ability to participate, in day-to-day life activities.
Mr Sherlock said the situation amounts to “a perfect storm” in terms of occupational therapy in Ireland.
That figure is in reference to published statistics from the HSE’s Health Business Services division, which shows that just 73 occupational therapists were recruited by the executive in 2019, down from 135 in 2016.
At the same time, temporary positions are being filled at an increased rate compared with permanent ones.
"It's proof positive that a whole swathe of young children are being denied services right under the cover of Covid and it's going to have dire consequences for their own personal development,” Mr Sherlock said.
“These are real families and real people. We are in danger of being numbed by these numbers of thousands on the waiting list. Each number on the waiting list is a child. Each number is a family desperately seeking intervention."