I thank the Deputies and Senators here today for giving us the opportunity to contribute. I want to welcome my colleagues from the DPCN, Ms Dempsey and Ms Browne. One of the points the committee asked us to cover was amply addressed by Ms Browne, in terms of the role of the establishment of the DPCN. I want to reiterate a number of points the committee has heard from Ms Browne, but they are important and we hope the committee takes some time to consider them.
If we are to truly ensure that our consultation processes hear from the voices and experiences of people with disabilities, our consultation process has to be genuine. Unfortunately, once we were appointed as the four funded members of the DPCN there was a very quick turnaround to gather the input from people with disabilities for the State's draft report. There are over 640,000 people with disabilities in Ireland. They are not all the same and there are many different spaces and locations. If we really want to hear from those most marginalised or those most distant from the political process, we need to be genuine in how we carry out that level of engagement. There is learning from the first round of engagement that we hope to build back into the network.
The methodology employed to identify members of the DPCN has to be commended. One unanticipated outcome was the identification of over 1,000 additional members who were eager to be involved in this process. Again, because of the quick turnaround required of us for our response to the State's report, that level of engagement has yet to be fully realised. We encourage the committee to provide the necessary resources and timelines to enable us to hear from and exercise the expertise in that broader network.
As Ms Browne said, we comprise five organisations, four funded and one co-ordinating member. Some of us have a history of working together on measures such as the Oireachtas disability group. Others do not have that experience, therefore there is a period of time where we have to figure out how to work together in terms of achieving the best possible outcomes for the people with disability we represent. I reiterate the point that there is definitely a need to examine investing appropriately to make sure that the best possible outcomes can be achieved from across the membership.
I want to move on to the impact of Covid. In some ways, it is a bit like Groundhog Day. DFI and others have been before the committee a number of times over the lifetime of this pandemic to talk about the issues. We are all acutely aware of the impact Covid has had on individuals and families, and that has not changed. I want to take this opportunity to commend individuals, families and organisations on their innovation and commitment, which has ensured that people have been protected from the impact of Covid, especially those in residential and day services.
We are, however, concerned that we do not have reliable data to understand how prevalent Covid was among people with disabilities who are not availing of those services. Unlike other countries, we did not gather data on the presentation of people with disabilities to acute and hospital services. That is alarming because international evidence suggests that there would have been a high prevalence of those cases, outside of day and residential services, who may have been affected.
I also want to take this opportunity to remind the committee that the organisations that have played such a critical role in providing, as best they can, some sort of shield to individuals and families during the lifetime of the pandemic are the same organisations that in 2019 came before the Oireachtas to explain the crippling deficits they were carrying. Between them they are carrying a deficit of more than €40 million. Despite the challenges they have faced they have turned into the pandemic, and that is something that should be commended.
There are a number of learnings from the experience of Covid within disability services, something that committee members need to reflect on.
The first is that Covid exacerbated what we already knew were some of the big challenges in disability services and, outside of those, within services to disability generally. We know the 3,000 people in congregated settings and the 1,400 plus people under the age of 65 who are in day services are inappropriately placed and were in the eye of the pandemic storm due to the unacceptable nature of their current locations. When the pandemic hit and we had to look at how we safely deliver services, in particular day services, we also began to identify how we are not yet in the position to provide appropriate individualised services and supports. It has been a difficult period both for the 27,000 people who use day services and for their families. We now know from the last tally that there has been a return to day services of between 40% and 50%, and we acknowledge the extra investment in those to try to help them to reopen. There is still a service gap for people with disabilities, and without planning and the resources to deliver much more person-centred services in future, we will always have this challenge in adverse situations.
We must acknowledge the significant investment in budget 2021. For the second time successively for a long time we have seen investment in personal assistants and home supports. What this pandemic has also shown us is that these are the critical services that enable the best responses to be developed to people's individual needs and family needs. It is incumbent on all of us to consider how best we can resource and invest in these models of service as we go forward. They are, after all, in keeping with Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. They are the baseline for Article 19.
We often lose sight of the fact there are 640,000 people with disabilities in Ireland. A very small number of that population access day and residential and other core national disability services. Most people are users of general health services and these have been crippled during the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic will be carried by these services for a very long time and will inadvertently impact on people with disabilities as they work to have good quality health and well-being. We know from the recent tally there are almost 27,000 people waiting for neurological outpatient services, more than half of whom have been waiting longer than 12 months. We have to address this issue as a matter of urgency. We welcome the acknowledgement in the recent HSE operational plan of the need to invest in disability services. One of the main things from today we are looking for the committee to think about is how best it can support the HSE and others to ensure investment best suits the necessary outcomes for people with disabilities.
I do not know whether I have a minute to talk about the vaccination roll-out. I am sure it is high on all of the members' agendas and they are probably getting many queries in their constituencies around it. It is merely to acknowledge the fact we will pass a milestone at the end of this week or next week whereby all people in day and residential services within disability services will have been vaccinated. Our colleagues within the HSE and within the services must be commended on this heroic effort. I would encourage Oireachtas Members, however, to ensure they complete this programme to people within disability services. There are many people who receive personal assistant, PA, supports and home supports who have yet to receive vaccines. Many of these are vulnerable because of the comorbidities they have to the impact of Covid and we would encourage members to ensure the Oireachtas pushes through and finalises the vaccination of all those within disability services. Equally, we are conscious of the role GPs will play in vaccinating most people with disabilities, and we would encourage members to ensure GPs are receiving the most up-to-date information they can to help in prioritisation.
We are lending weight to our colleagues from Inclusion Ireland, the Carers Association and the Care Alliance on the need to vaccinate carers as a matter of urgency. The symbiotic relationship between individuals and carers is well appreciated. If people with disabilities are vaccinated but their carers are still exposed to the impact of Covid, should they contract it, it puts extra pressure both on families and on the services that provide the added support. Do not forget that carers are the unfunded service providers, and once the State has put the hand out to support those who are funded to deliver day and residential services, we are now asking Oireachtas Members to do the same for the families who provide most of the care within these settings.
I will hand back over to Mr. Dolan for some final comments and I thank the committee for taking the time to listen to our concerns today.