Children are “paying the price” for a pause on audiology and speech and language services during the Covid-19 pandemic, with tens of thousands waiting to access services that have yet to resume.
As new figures show that over one-third of children were waiting more than a year for audiology treatment and one fifth were waiting for an initial speech and language assessment in September, the HSE has confirmed there is no start date for the resumption of services.
HSE figures show that 17,000 children and adults were awaiting audiology treatment at the end of September, more than 7,000 of whom were children and almost 8,000 of whom were adults over the age of 65 years.
The figures do not provide the full waiting list picture as several local services did not provide data for September, suggesting the numbers are likely to be higher.
The figures show that 35% of children and over 40% of adults were waiting over a year for an audiology appointment in September.
The highest audiology waiting list was in the South Lee service in Cork, which had more than 4,400 children and adults waiting for an appointment.
About 20,000 children and adults are also waiting for an initial assessment by speech and language therapists nationally, although the figure is likely to be higher as several local services did not provide data for September.
The available figures further show that 20% of 13,273 children are waiting more than a year for an initial speech and language assessment and that services in the Dublin region have the highest waiting list.
The figures come as the HSE has confirmed that speech and language and audiology services have yet to resume.
“A date for the full resumption of routine services has not been set but the preparatory work in terms of infrastructure readiness to ensure a clean and safe environment is underway,” the HSE told co-leader of the Social Democrats Catherine Murphy in response to a parliamentary question last week.
Ms Murphy said it is of concern that no date is set for services to resume and it is not clear how many staff from audiology and speech and language services remain seconded to the Covid-19 response.
“We have to find a way to get these services up and running,” she said. Children, she said, are already facing a “postcode lottery” for audiology and speech and language services and would be significantly disadvantaged if left waiting for assessment and care.
“It will take years for us to discover the real cost of Covid. This has to be factored in as one of those costs,” Ms Murphy said. “The people who will be paying the price will be children who require services but will have a delay in their development. There will be children who will catch up but there will be others who never catch up."
The HSE was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.