Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Questions (47)

Thomas P. Broughan


47. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health his views on the right of persons with disabilities to a personal assistant; the steps he is taking to introduce same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27558/19]

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Oral answers (36 contributions) (Question to Health)

The Minister will be aware that in 2018, 2,535 people were in receipt of a personal assistance service. In this regard, the total number of hours was 1.6 million, which is an average of 1.73 hours per day per person in receipt of personal assistance. The Minister will also be aware that we have received extensive briefings in the past number of months from Independent Living Movement Ireland, as I am sure the Minister has as well. It would like an additional 500,000 hours per annum, at least, and would like Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities introduced here by way of legislation. We have also had excellent briefings from the Irish Wheelchair Association, which is headquartered in my constituency, and from a young journalist, Ms Niamh Ní Ruari, in regard to her experience of personal assistance.

I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this important issue.

In line with Government policy, the HSE provides personal assistant, PA, services that are person-centred, equitable and transparent to people with a physical and-or sensory disability.

People with disabilities are now living longer and living with a range of complex needs. In line with national policy implemented under Transforming Lives, the focus in recent years has been to enable people with disabilities to live lives of their choosing. The provision of personal assistant hours is an essential component of this policy.

The HSE's National Service Plan 2019 commits to providing 1.63 million hours of personal assistance to 2,535 people with a disability, representing an increase of 170,000 hours over the 2018 target.

The HSE has consistently, year on year, increased the number of hours of PA service delivered, resulting in the overall number of personal assistance hours increasing by 26% between 2013 and 2018, an increase in real terms of 340,000 hours. Over the same period the number of people receiving PA services has increased by approximately 480 to 2,535.

The PA works on a one-to-one basis in the home and the community with a person with a physical or sensory disability. A vital element of this personalised support is the full involvement of the service user in planning and agreeing the type and the times when support is provided to them. Supporting independent living must enhance the person's control over his or her own life.

Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled people should live where they wish and with whom they wish, should enjoy a range of community support services including personal assistance, should enjoy community life and its opportunities on an equal basis to non-disabled people and should not be subject to isolation or segregation. The PA service provided by the HSE adheres to these principles.

In the normal course of service delivery, an individual's requirements are constantly reviewed to ensure services meet changing need. An individual's personal assistant hours may be adjusted following a service review where demand can result in one individual's hours being reduced to address priority needs of other people with disabilities within that community.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This much needed flexibility gives local community healthcare organisations the freedom to target personal assistant hours to maximum effect within their area.

Beyond the clear policy and operational arrangements which I have outlined and which facilitate the availability of appropriate and growing levels of personal assistant support, I have no plans for legislation governing the rights, entitlements and operations associated with this service.

I thank the Minister of State for his response but he did not say whether or not he believes in the right to personal assistance. As the Minister of State is aware, in 2017 almost 85% of people in receipt of personal assistance services received less than three hours service per day. We have heard that some people receive as little as 40 minutes assistance per day, such that there is hardly time to get breakfast, showered and dressed to go to work or to an appointment. Some people are in receipt of a very little amount of time. We know the realities of this. Dr. Cathal Morgan sent me an excellent reply on foot of my question to the Minister, Deputy Harris, on this matter, in which he set out the small increases over the years which the Minister of State outlined in his reply but he did not deny the fact that the funding for personal assistance has not increased since 2008. For 11 years, including the three during which the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been in office, there has been no increase in funding in this area. The reality is that a right to personal assistance is not being delivered. Joan Carthy of the Irish Wheelchair Association, who the Minister of State and I know, made the point that even with the additional 170,000 hours provided last year there are still a wide range of citizens who are not getting the personal assistance rights.

On the rights issue, as the Deputy knows, I am the person who ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities-----

The protocol has not been ratified.

-----which many people on the Opposition benches talked about doing for over 20 years.

The protocol has not been ratified.

The Minister of State, without interruption. Deputy Broughan will have another minute later.

I support Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which states that disabled people should live where they wish and with whom they wish. That is my position. This Government ratified the convention. A lot of people in this House, including Deputy Broughan, sat on the pot for many years and did nothing about it.

Deputy Broughan spoke about hours. As I stated, the number of hours of personal assistance has increased by 200,000. In 2013, there were 1.291 million personal assistance hours. In 2018, the figure was 1.63 million hours. I want to do more and there are people who could do with more hours but I also want to bury a myth. People who receive personal assistance regularly come to my office and I have yet to meet one who receives three hours of personal assistance per week. Most of those I meet get between 20 and 30 hours per week. If there are people who are excluded, I am determined to include them.

I call Deputy Broughan to ask his final question.

There are 200,000 hours to do that. We have restored the respite care grant which is a significant help.

The Minister of State will have another minute if he wishes to elaborate.

I will introduce a personalised budget shortly which will give more independence to people with disabilities.

The Minister of State does not seem to accept the figures provided by the Independent Living Movement Ireland. The reality is that the Minister of State did not legislate for the optional protocol. If he was serious about the convention, he would have legislated for that and article 19, which gives the right to a personal assistant. He did not do that because his Fine Gael masters would not let him-----

Do not drag me into it.

-----because they are not prepared to provide the finance. Three years have been wasted and the Minister of State has not delivered. I will go on the figures that I have in front of me-----

It is the Battle of Clontarf.

-----from the Independent Living Movement Ireland and the Irish Wheelchair Association. Will the Minister of State commit to legislating under article 19 to give a right to personal assistance? Will he also accede to the request of the Irish Wheelchair Association to have the Central Statistics Office find out how many hours are needed and to what extent the Government is providing for the right of persons with a disability to have a personal assistant?

The partnership Government ratified the UN convention and we are very proud of that. The optional protocol will be done when we have certain matters finalised.

It will be done by us.

We are way ahead of other European countries with regard to the UN convention.

We are not ahead of Sweden.

In this year's HSE service plan, €1.904 billion is provided for disability services. That is an increase of 7.5%, yet Deputy Broughan is telling Deputies and people on the north side of Dublin that I am cutting the service. It is a load of rubbish.

I know what the Minister of State is doing.

Not only is the Deputy misleading the people but he ran away from going into government.

I know what the Minister of State has done.

You did not have the bottle to go into government. You are sitting on the pot over there when you had a chance to help me to get more services for people with disabilities.

You supported the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agenda.

Members must address their remarks through the Chair.

Deputy Broughan does not know how to deliver. There is no point in him coming into the Dáil if he cannot stand up and represent the people.

The Minister of State is a lap-dog.

I am proud to represent the people of Dublin Bay North, especially people with disabilities.

What about the Irish Wheelchair Association?

It is essential that we support people with disabilities. I fully support article 19 and I will act on it, rather than talk about it, as Deputy Broughan does with all his hot air.

I thought people sat on the fence, not on a pot.