Tá mé lán-sásta gur thug an Ceann Comhairle an deis dom an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a lua ar an Athló inniu. I am very grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue.
It is an issue that affects families in County Meath to an extraordinary degree. I have been contacted by parents who cannot get occupational therapy for their children because there is only one occupational therapist, OT, covering County Meath and the town of Kingscourt in County Cavan for children aged between 0 and 18. That person works 17.5 hours per week. As of last week there are 350 children waiting to be seen in County Meath and that one part-time OT has to deal with all of them. A child in County Meath has to wait four and a half years for an assessment. That is what the staff tell us. That is coming straight from the horse's mouth. There are other OTs who work in Enable Ireland and the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, to address the needs of children with diagnosed disabilities, including physical disabilities and autism but primary care is the first point of contact for children so most people coming to the primary care OT have no diagnosis and wait four and a half years for that.
Some OTs left the service in County Meath this year and there has been no word of their replacement. There was a long period when there was no manager to advocate for the service within the Health Service Executive. The OT in County Meath organised meetings of parents because she was so concerned at the situation she and the parents were facing and asked the parents to contact their local politicians such was the gravity of the situation. I have never before seen a public servant gather people together and ask them to advocate for a service. That is the job of the Minister of State and of HSE management, not that of the OT on the ground. It is shameful that children must wait four and a half years for an assessment. It is extremely worrying for parents because they know and hear from others who have gone through the worry and trauma of requiring these services that the early years are when children are diagnosed and their needs are assessed. This needs to be addressed urgently. There are parts of Dublin where there is no problem whatsoever but children in my county have to wait almost five years to be assessed for occupational therapy.