Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Ceisteanna (51)

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Ceist ar Health)

Question No. 51 is in my name and I seek the permission of the House to ask Deputy O'Rourke to take the Chair for a few minutes. Is that agreed?

I thank the Chair.

I am sure that Deputy Eugene Murphy will comply with the timing.

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

51. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Health if a full review will be undertaken of services provided for children with Down's syndrome in County Roscommon in order to determine the number of therapists required to provide a service fit for purpose in relation to the improvement of fine motor skills, gross motor skills and speech therapy; if the recommendations of such a review will be implemented with immediate effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27451/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I certainly will. The Acting Chairman will be surprised and I hope he gives me credit at the end. This question is to ask the Minister for Health if a full review will be undertaken of the services provided for children with Down's syndrome in County Roscommon to determine the number therapists required to provide a service fit for purpose regarding improvement of fine motor skills, gross motor skills and speech therapy; if the recommendation of such a review will be implemented with immediate effect and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for raising this important issue. I also thank him for the warm welcome I was given last week in Creggs in County Roscommon. I visited the Creggs national school where I met all the neighbours and families. They have a lovely service and it is a brilliant community. It is a very inclusive school where there are children with special needs. I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy again for that warm welcome and for his particular interest in all children with disabilities.

In Ireland and in our policy view, disability service provision promotes a non-condition specific approach with services based on need rather than diagnosis. In Roscommon multi-disciplinary services for children with Down's syndrome are provided by the Roscommon early intervention service for children up to six years and the school age disability team for children aged six to 18 years. Multi-disciplinary services including occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy, continue to be provided to all children with disabilities regardless of condition, based on their specific needs. The requirement for additional resources to provide appropriate and timely services for children and young people with complex needs has been identified by the Health Service Executive, HSE, and formal approval to proceed with the recruitment of 100 new therapy posts was issued last month.

All community healthcare organisations, CHOs, are now in the process of recruiting these posts. CHO 2, which includes Roscommon, has been allocated 3.5 whole-time equivalent posts. Nationally, including Roscommon, multi-disciplinary services with children with Down's syndrome are provided through the disability services. I refer to early intervention services for children up to six years and the school age disability team for children aged six to 18 years. The multi-disciplinary services include occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy. A review of services provided to children with Down's syndrome has not been undertaken as the current policy is to assess and provide services to children based on need. A review based on diagnosis would not be appropriate. We need to see what the needs are and then put in the teams.

I welcome that there is some good news in that statement from the Minister of State. I acknowledge that he takes a personal interest in this situation as well. I want to be fair about that. We have had meetings about such issues and we will have more. The difficulty I have is that the parents of children with Down's syndrome in my county, and I can say the same for the parts of Galway that I represent, is that they are having much difficulty accessing occupational therapists, speech therapists and physiotherapists. Many parents are finding that they have to finance that provision themselves. It is causing much financial distress for those parents. It is an area that we have to examine in general. I say that because the Minister of State is well aware of the July provision situation and what happened in the courts not too long ago. I am sure that Minister of State will agree that the goal posts have changed and that we are going to have to take an overall look at this situation. I welcome the fact that we have some good news but we have a long way to go.

I accept fully the sincerity of Deputy Eugene Murphy's points regarding the therapy services. That is why in last year's Estimates the Minister for Health sought these new therapy posts. I accept that is a start and that we have to move on that. I welcome the fact that the Roscommon area will get 3.5 whole-time equivalent posts. It is also, however, important to realise that there are 56 children's disability network teams already established with a further 82 such children's disability network teams to be reconfigured from the existing services. It is important too that we note that all HSE areas that are planning reconfigurations continue to have significant early intervention and school aid services in place. Those are provided either directly by the HSE or by the voluntary service providers which are funded by the services such as Rehab, Enable Ireland, the Muiríosa Foundation, St. John of God community services, the Brothers of Charity services, St. Michael's House, the Cope Foundation, the Central Remedial Clinic, CRC, and the Daughters of Charity services. We are also funding those early intervention services.

I thank the Minister of State. He will have a further chance to respond.

I will make the final point that a key enabler of the establishment of the children's disability network is the recruitment of children's disability network managers. There are some human resource issues but hopefully they will be resolved very soon.

I welcome the work done by the HSE staff in this area but they will say themselves that because they have so many children to treat and are so understaffed that the visits are infrequent. It is viewed as piecemeal-type therapy. Those staff are not happy. I will give some figures to let the Minister of State realise what we are dealing with in the county. These figures come from a parliamentary question I tabled recently. The number of people waiting to access occupational therapy in adult services in County Roscommon is 196. The number of priority one cases waiting is 20, priority two is 176 and there is no priority three. The number of children waiting to access occupational therapy in County Roscommon at the moment is 226. The waiting periods range from 12 weeks minimum to 36 months. That is three years. It is a shameful situation and it is something we all have to rectify. I am sure that the Minister of State acknowledges that.

I acknowledge that. Efforts are being made to resolve that particular issue regarding the waiting lists. The children's disability network teams are being put in place and that is another issue slowing down the process. We of course have to ensure that every child gets access to one of those therapies, whether speech and language or occupational therapy. That is a solution. At the same time, however, we can fix the figures mentioned by the Deputy with some of the constructive solutions coming on stream in the next couple of months. I am optimistic that we will see major progress by August. We will continue to drive that and we will need to continue to examine this issue.