I thank the Chair and members for inviting me. I look forward to working with the joint committee which has been established specifically to deal with disability matters.
Unfortunately, many people with disabilities and their families saw schools, day services and respite services close during the pandemic. I completely understand that people might feel they have been forgotten but I want the committee to know that I have been working hard to ensure that people with disabilities and their families are listened to and are at the heart of decisions made by the Government.
My sustained efforts, with my colleagues in Cabinet, secured an additional €100 million in budget 2021 to assist people with disabilities and their families. In addition, on Friday last, I and the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, announced €20 million in once-off funding for voluntary service providers. This will be used to achieve additional measurable progress, for example, in reforming disability services, improving the quality of life for those who rely on these services and building capacity of disability organisations. This will happen under three different strands. Eligible disability organisations can apply to the HSE disability services by 18 November giving details of their proposal, the budget required and the rationale for what the relevant organisation expects to achieve. The panel of assessors, which will be established by the HSE, will review applications and issue funding approvals by the end of November. Larger grants of over €25,000 will be issued in three different stages. When the budget day announcement was made, we stated this measure was part of transforming lives and it comes under the agenda of transforming lives. This is in addition to the more than €2 billion that the Government provides to fund disability services on an ongoing basis. This sum is significant and I hope it reflects to the committee the importance the Government places on ensuring people with disabilities can return to a normal and safe life within the confines of Covid-19 restrictions at every level of the living with Covid plan.
I will address the impact of Covid-19 that people with disabilities and their families faced during the Covid-19 crisis. It is a challenging time for many people with disabilities and their families whose services were forced to close earlier this year. Unfortunately, people in our services, both staff and service users, especially in residential services, contracted illnesses. Approximately 8,400 people with disabilities live in HIQA registered disability services ranging from single apartments to group homes in the community and campus based facilities. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, has confirmed that, as of midnight on 31 October, there have been no outbreaks of Covid-19 in more than 80% of the centres. Outbreaks have been recorded in 143 residential disability centres, of which 104 or 73% have now been cleared or closed after 28 days with no new cases. The remaining 39 remain open. A total of 709 people are laboratory confirmed Covid-19 positive and it is estimated that 54% of those affected were staff and 46% were residents. Unfortunately, 13 people died, all of them residents. I extend my sympathies to their families on the passing of their loved ones.
Visiting guidelines have been developed outlining when visits to people in residential settings can be permitted, while seeking to strike a balance that emphasises that these facilities are home for the people living in them. The importance of maintaining family connections with loved ones, from a holistic person-centred approach, is underscored. In general, visitation was restricted to outdoor visits only for level 3 and above in the living with Covid plan. However, the guidance also recognises that in residential disability services, in our own-door supported accommodation or small group homes for people with disabilities, in particular, where residents are younger and do not have medical vulnerabilities, the risk is lower than in larger congregated care settings for older people and additional visits can be managed, especially if there is one nominated visitor who complies fully with the measures of reduced inadvertent introduction of Covid to these residents. At a framework level, critical or compassionate visits may occur subject to a risk assessment in each case.
Our best line of defence against Covid-19 is planning for infection prevention and control and this is done through the public health department in the HSE. By working together, the HSE and service providers have developed guidance on the safe return of services. While the manner in which services are delivered has probably altered, nonetheless children's services, adult day services, respite, personal assistance, PA, and home support are now deemed essential services and it is my intention that we will remain open at all levels of living with Covid.
There was substantial early engagement on infection prevention and control, leading to regular updates to guidance and infection prevention and control as well as dissemination of the information through dedicated webinars for the staff in all disability residential settings. HIQA has also developed an infection prevention and control assurance framework, which includes a self-assessment tool that will be supported by HIQA through an outreach training and support programme.
Many people with disabilities live at home with their families and loved ones and many saw their routines and way of living completely up-ended causing much distress. Some people lost services for in excess of 20 weeks. That was a phenomenal and unbelievable upturning of their lives. Some families with older parents who are vulnerable and at risk were not comfortable with receiving even the outreach model that we wanted to put in place. There was a great deal of stress and frustration among families and service users with disabilities. It is important to acknowledge that the families of some service users are still not comfortable using services again due to the underlying conditions or profound disabilities of their loved ones.
Many services have had to fundamentally re-examine how they deliver services, from room size to types of activities, transport options and so on. It is likely that some of the targets in the 2020 national service plan cannot be met. However, as I indicated, service providers have not been found wanting and have been admirable in putting the safety and needs of people with disabilities at the front of their response.
Complete compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, will not be achieved immediately. There will be challenges but, despite Covid-19, we are moving in the right direction. As I mentioned, the health budget will allocate an additional €100 million in new funding to enhance services and supports for people with disability focusing on key areas that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 has been devastating for many families. I am sure we all know people who have been affected. Members will have been inundated with representations and emails from constituents expressing frustration, upset and despair, as I have. The Government is committed to working with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, the Minister of State, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, and other colleagues to move towards returning to normal daily life in as safe a way as possible. We want to support people providing vital services while protecting service users and staff. We will get through this together. I look forward to working with the committee to help ensure that we focus our resources on prioritising the lived experience of people with disabilities.
We are still living alongside Covid, which has not gone away. During the early weeks of the pandemic, the HSE, service providers and the Department worked together very well. It is important to acknowledge that.
The collaboration was unbelievable and I would like it to continue in that spirit. I will continue working in that way with my colleagues, the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and Donnelly.