A Waterford councillor has expressed grave concerns that children and families waiting up to 12 months for an initial autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnostic assessment and other initial consultations will be forced to wait considerably longer before being seen.
Sinn Féin's Cllr Conor D. McGuinness has criticised the HSE for seeking to merge the waiting list for Waterford into a regional list that will include Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary and Wexford.
Cllr McGuinness said children in Waterford are currently waiting up to 44 months to be seen by an occupation therapist and an average of 12 months for an appointment with a child psychologist. He said the waiting time for child psychology in Waterford has remained constant since 2014.
"During the same period, the average waiting time in Carlow/Kilkenny has dropped from 24 to six months, while for South Tipperary it has fallen from 30 to 22 months. The waiting time in Wexford, however, has increased from 45 months in 2014 to 67 months in 2018.
“In response to a question from David Cullinane TD, the HSE has confirmed its intention to merge all four waiting lists into one regional waiting list for the South East. The claim is that this will allow them to ensure equality of access across the region. However, the HSE concedes that the changeover with lead to an initial increase in waiting times. There are plans to recruit an additional 15 child psychologists, but there is no concrete timeline for this and it's clear that the intention is to go ahead with the regional waiting list plan before the additional staff required are in position.
“Without the staff to do the work, it is inevitable that waiting times will increase. There is simply not the capacity at present in terms of staff and resources for such a reassignment. We all know about the chronic recruitment and retention problems with the HSE. It could take years to fill the additional 15 posts, if they manage to fill them at all," he continued.
Cllr McGuinness said it is "staggering" that the HSE would embark on such a path of consolidating waiting lists without having the necessary personnel put in place beforehand. "Based on current waiting times, it is clear that children in Waterford in need of a child psychologist appointment will be made to wait longer while the HSE removes capacity from Waterford and reallocates it elsewhere.
“It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing here is a form of asset-stripping, one where counties that are coming close to meeting their targets will be forced to shore up other counties because the HSE is not in a position to undertake the type of investment in staff that is needed to deliver the type of service that all citizens in the South East deserve," he added.
WaterfordLive.ie has contacted the HSE and is awaiting a response.