Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Ceisteanna (52)

Seán Haughey


52. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Health the way in which he plans to address the increase in CHO 9 of the number of overdue first assessments under the Disability Act 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27768/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Health)

This question is to ask the Minister for Health the way in which he plans to address the increase in community healthcare organisation, CHO 9, of the number of overdue first assessments under the Disability Act 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Minister of State will know that under the Disability Act 2005 an assessment of needs must begin no later than three months after receipt of the completed application and the assessment of need should be completed within a further three months from the date upon which the assessment commenced.

I thank the Deputy for raising what is an important issue for our area. I have been advised by HSE officials that there is a delay in completing assessments of need in the Dublin north city and county community healthcare organisation, CHO, due to the increasing number of referrals. A number of factors are driving this demand, those being, the growth in the child population and an increase in children presenting with complex needs. All applications and assessments of need are dealt with strictly in order of date of application. Under the Disability Act 2005, an assessment of need should begin not later than three months after receipt of a completed application and should be completed within a further three months.

Plans are in place to increase staffing levels in therapy disciplines to support the assessment of need process for children in the Dublin north city and county CHO. We are pushing this strongly. Funding for an additional 100 therapy posts was secured as part of budget 2019 - I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, for his strong support in that regard - to improve waiting times for assessments of need nationally. The HSE is committed to the recruitment of these 100 therapy posts in its 2019 national service plan, with the Dublin north city and county CHO allocated 16 of these posts. The CHO is actively drawing from existing panels with a view to having these posts filled by the end of 2019.

The filling of these critical posts is designed to have a positive impact on waiting times for assessments of need around the country. The 16 posts will make an impression and will be filled over the next couple of months.

I hope the Minister of State is right. The issue of children who are overdue assessments under the Disability Act has been a running sore for some time. Colleagues in the Dáil, including my party's spokesperson on disability, Deputy Murphy O'Mahony, have put sustained pressure on the Government in this regard, which has resulted in some improvements, especially in Cork and Kerry where the number waiting at the start of 2018 was scandalous. In CHO 9, which covers the north side of Dublin, we have seen the number going the opposite way. There were 442 overdue assessments in the second quarter of 2018. That increased to 707 by the second quarter of this year, representing a significant increase of almost 60%. The Minister of State will agree that to have so many children unable to receive their legal entitlement within the statutory timeframe is wrong. Why has this happened and what has been done to address it? It is all very well intending to fill the posts in question, but will the Minister of State assure the House that they will be filled in order to improve this drastic situation?

The number of new applications under the Act has increased steadily since its enactment. For example, 1,138 applications were received in 2007 whereas 5,839 were received in 2017. During that time, a total of 43,521 completed applications were received by the HSE. The number of children aged five and over and otherwise of schoolgoing age has risen steadily as a percentage of all applications received. At the end of 2011, the figure stood at 26%, while at end of 2017, it was 51%.

The level of recruitment is an issue, but funding for the therapy posts has been allocated. The HSE has told me that it is committed to recruiting for these posts and rolling them out. All CHO areas have been advised to proceed with the recruitment for all such posts immediately. All CHOs are activating their panels via the HSE's health business services, HBS, and section 38 providers. Some posts have been allocated to section 38 and section 39 organisations. It is anticipated that recruitment for these posts will proceed quickly. For example, CHO 4 has three posts filled. There is a target for all posts to be filled by the end of 2019. This is something that we must drive strongly. I will continue to do so.

In our constituency, there is a 27-month waiting time for the early intervention team. There is also a waiting time of between 36 and 40 months for the school age disability team. Parents have gone to the Minister of State's advice clinic and they have come to mine. They are distraught trying to get the services their children require.

Does the Minister of State accept that disability services for children are in crisis on the north side of Dublin? Consider occupational therapy. In CHO 9, the most recent figures we received show that 1,967 under 18s are waiting, with 881 waiting for longer than a year. When a child must wait a year or two, can it really be called early intervention? The Minister of State is aware of the situation. I appreciate that he has set out the reasons for so many people presenting for services, but there is a crisis and parents are distraught. The Minister of State has responsibility for disability services and this is his constituency. We must address the issue.

I agree that there is an issue. It is essential that we deal with the early intervention situation. There is no debate about that. It is why our constituency of Dublin Bay North has been allocated 16 posts. Will they make a dent in the assessments of need? Will the service be accessible to the families that are waiting? I know many of them. As the Deputy mentioned, they come to our clinics regularly. The bottom line is that 16 posts have been allocated, which will make a dent in the waiting list.

As we approach the Estimates in the coming months, I will be seeking more money for therapy posts. In that regard, I would appreciate the same support I received from colleagues in Fianna Fáil last year, including Deputy Haughey. It is essential that we accept the reality that children with disabilities and their families need support.