These were the words used by consultant orthopedic surgeon Connor Green to describe the care for children with scoliosis in this country. Mr Green was speaking to the Oireachtas health committee yesterday and his testimony was, quite frankly, haunting. He told the committee that, while the care of children with scoliosis was inadequate, "the care of children with other orthopedic conditions is just as bad”.
"This is alarming when I tell you that scoliosis only represents about 20% of our practice. Therefore, the real crisis is everything else," Mr Green said.
It was the heart-breaking story of 10-year-old Adam Terry from Whitechurch that caught the public imagination on the morning of last month's budget. After waiting four years for surgery for his scoliosis, Adam was living in terrible pain and told RTÉ radio'sshow that he felt as though he was “at the bottom of the barrel”.
His story outraged the nation and dominated a considerable amount of post-budget coverage. Adam subsequently got a date for his surgery, which took place two weeks ago. In an update on radio yesterday, his mother Christine said that he was “recovering better than anybody could have anticipated”.
This is great news for Adam, but what does it say about the system that failed him, and so many others, for four long years.
The family’s decision to go public with their plight resulted in Adam receiving the life-changing surgery to which he was entitled. However, there are more than 200 children still awaiting surgery. Does every one of their families have to forego their privacy on the national airwaves to get the medical attention that their children deserve? Haven’t they endured enough at this stage?
Alluding to the waiting list, Christine spoke of her distress at hearing, while Adam was in surgery, about cancellations of other surgeries. These are not numbers, she pointed out, they are little children.
Scoliosis is in the headlines now, and rightly so, but what of the other 80% of orthopedic patients to which Mr Green referred? What about them?
The picture that emerged yesterday at the Oireachtas health committee was of a broken system that is utterly failing patients and medical practitioners. Currently, there are 12 pediatric orthopedic consultants in Ireland, but 21 consultants are needed.
Professor Damien McCormack spoke of this lack of skilled orthopedic surgeons in this area in Ireland, and the fact that many opt to work in the more lucrative area of adult orthopedics in private practice. He suggested the creation of a separate training programme for children's orthopedics so that “we train our own”.
The fact that private practice is soaking up the expertise in this area is distressing when one considers what is at stake here. However, medical professionals deserve a system where they can fulfil their calling, instead of fighting for their patients in front of Oireachtas committees.
Adam Terry is recovering well from his surgery. He told his mother: “This is the start of the rest of my life.”
We wish him the best in the future and we look forward to more children starting the rest of their lives too. It is the least they deserve.