The HSE has been criticised over plans to divert primary care psychologists to tackle the backlog in assessment of need (AON) cases, with new figures showing the number of overdue cases now below 2,000.
An extra €7.8m was secured through Sláintecare last August to cut the backlog in AON cases — the screening process to ensure children get access to appropriate healthcare treatment — which at the end of last September stood at over 6,000.
As of the end of March, the backlog was down to 1,919 cases, but some HSE areas are taking special measures to reduce it further, including the temporary redeployment of personnel from primary care and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
"A number of primary clinicians across occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, and psychology services in Dublin South Kildare and West Wicklow will focus on clearing waiting lists in assessment of need for a specific time in June 2021," said the HSE.
"This will ensure that the existing skill base across primary care staff is optimised and intervention is provided locally at the right level for children who need this service in line with government policy.
"A proportion of primary care staff will be assigned to AON for one week in order to streamline the process and free up time over the summer period to concentrate on intervention."
As for CAMHS, the HSE said: "Some children awaiting AON assessments are known to both primary care and mental health. The expected timeframe to clear these lists for AON is expected to be very short and will not impact significantly on current caseloads in primary care and mental health.
"The school-age teams are responsible for completion of these assessments for children with disabilities so the redeployment has no impact on intervention as these clinicians would be completing these assessments as part of their normal workload."
When contacted by theabout the HSE plans, Mark Smyth, past president of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and PSI lead on the AON issue, claimed the attempts to reduce waiting lists in one area would simply cause problems elsewhere.
“At a time when primary care and CAMHS waiting lists are already at inexcusable levels, it's beyond comprehension that any resources would be diverted from these already overwhelmed services," said Mr Smyth.
"Why are AON assessments being considered more important than primary care and mental health intervention? Who will clear the waiting lists in CAMHS and primary care, and will resources be diverted there too?
"As the Ombudsman for Children stated before the Oireachtas committee this year, this is not even robbing Peter to pay Paul, it is just robbing Peter and leaving nothing for Paul.”
The HSE said it anticipated that most of the healthcare areas will have eliminated their backlogs by the end of June.