Half of babies missing health checks due to Covid-19

With public health nurse visits curtailed by Covid, less than half of our infants had their development health screening on time
Half of babies missing health checks due to Covid-19

The HSE can't say when vital development checks — which assess every child's physical development, motor skills and fine movements, eyesight, hearing, speech development, and social and emotional behaviour — will fully resume. File Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

More than half of all babies did not receive a crucial development health check due before they turned one due to the pandemic.

Public health nurse visits and important screening checks have been curtailed and delayed as a result of restrictions — and the HSE cannot say when full services will resume.

The HSE has confirmed over 28,172 infants reaching 10 months had their child development health screening on time or before reaching 12 months of age last year. An average of 60,000 babies are born here every year.

Call for catchup programme

The check assesses a child's physical development, their motor skills and fine movements, eyesight, hearing, and speech development, as well as social and emotional behaviour and should be carried out between nine and 11 months by a public health nurse.

Calling on the HSE to urgently roll out a catchup programme, Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy said:

"These are pretty important tests in that they pick up developmental issues that require intervention. Not only that, but there is a degree of assurance for parents and particularly first-time parents that things are as they should be."

She warned these delays this will put more pressure on an already stretched health system, as existing staff will have to face an increased workload to clear the backlog.

HSE: 'rearranged services' 

The HSE said the ongoing pandemic has required "significant rearrangement of services including redeployment of staff", especially in December and January.

A spokesperson said public health nursing staff are now returning to their core duties, and child development checks will be considered a priority area. Clinical guidelines are being developed to support child development checks, the spokesperson added.

Health officials, meanwhile, confirmed that the one millionth vaccine dose was administered yesterday. HSE chief Paul Reid confirmed the milestone had been reached, while also noting that 190,000 doses are due to be administered this week, the highest weekly total to date.

Those figures came as Nphet confirmed 400 new cases of the virus and seven deaths — but officials emphasised the positive trends. The reproductive rate of the virus is now between 0.7 and 1.1, hospitalisations are reducing, and the number of close contacts associated with positive cases has not increased since February, a statistic hailed as "amazing" by Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer. 

Cautious optimism

However, despite this, Dr Glynn warned Ireland has to "proceed slowly" in the rollout of a vaccine bonus. While Nphet has endorsed advice that would permit unrestricted movement for fully-vaccinated healthcare workers even if they are identified as close contacts of a Covid-19 case, Dr Glynn cautioned against moving too fast, adding that other countries “have not gone as far” as the State had.

Asked about the reopening of services such as hairdressers, or the resuming of events for fully vaccinated individuals, Dr Glynn said there were “serious considerations” and that the country “is certainly not there yet”.

“From my perspective, the foundation stone on which the response to this has been based in this country was solidarity,” he said.

Post-vaccine thrombosis case

Meanwhile, the first Irish case of a very rare blood clot in a person who had been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is being investigated.

A 40-year-old woman is being treated at the Mater Hospital for CVST, the blood clot in the brain that EU medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency, concluded this week was possibly linked to the AstraZeneca jab.

She is in recovery and is expected to be discharged from the Mater in the coming days.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority confirmed it is conducting an investigation, with its statement coming just a day after European health officials concluded there was a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and very rare clotting. However, officials insist the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

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