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New figures show that there are currently 21,286 children under the age of 17 waiting for a first occupational therapy assessment in Ireland.

Occupational therapy provides practical support to empower people to facilitate recovery and overcome barriers preventing them from carrying out daily tasks.

Taking a holistic approach, occupational therapists help physically disabled people, elderly people, people with mental health problems, people with learning disabilities, and people recovering from an illness or operation. This support increases people’s independence and satisfaction in all aspects of life.

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However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various healthcare staff have been redeployed to the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, including occupational therapists, leading to a backlog of patients waiting for services. Redeployment might involve staff being moved to swabbing centres or making contract tracing calls an effort to lower testing and tracing times.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) asked local healthcare organisations (LHOs) across Ireland to provide information on their waiting listings for children seeking occupational therapy.

As seen in the Irish Examiner, two LHOs were unable to provide data on their occupational therapy waiting lists due to staff being redeployed.

Neither Sligo/Leitrim nor Limerick LHOs were in a position to respond to a request for information regarding the size of their lists, with their entry being marked a blanket zero by the HSE.

“Please note the list of LHO areas… which did not return data, as some areas were not in a position to return data due to staff being redeployed to Covid-19 related duties,” the HSE said, in response to a parliamentary question from Labour TD Sean Sherlock.

Aside from Sligo/Leitrim and Limerick LHOs, which did not submit a response, the statistics show that there are currently 21,286 children under the age of 17 waiting for a first occupational therapy assessment.

Just under half of that number, 10,455 children, have been waiting for more than 12 months. According to the figures, the LHO with the worst waiting list is Laois/Offaly, with 2,722 children waiting for an appointment and 1,488 of them for more than a year.

Sean said the situation amounts to “a perfect storm” in terms of occupational therapy in Ireland.

“It’s proof positive that a whole swathe of young children are being denied services right under the cover of Covid and it’s going to have dire consequences for their own personal development,” he said.

“These are real families and real people. We are in danger of being numbed by these numbers of thousands on the waiting list. Each number on the waiting list is a child. Each number is a family desperately seeking intervention.”

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