I thank Deputy Murphy O'Mahony for raising this very important issue.
The Disability Act 2005 provides for assessments of need for people with disabilities. Any child thought to have a disability born on or after 1 June 2002 is eligible to apply for an assessment of need, which will detail his or her health needs arising from any disability. Since the Act's commencement in 2007, there have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of children applying for both assessments of need and disability services generally. Regrettably, these increases have led to the extended waiting periods experienced by children and their families.
In order to improve the assessment of need process and ensure that children receive interventions as soon as possible, the HSE has developed a new standard operating procedure for the assessment of need process. This measure will ensure that children with disabilities and their families access appropriate assessment and intervention as soon as possible while at the same time bringing consistency to the assessment of need process across all community healthcare organisations of the HSE. It is intended that the procedure will be implemented from quarter 1 of 2020.
In addition, the HSE disability services are currently engaged in a major reconfiguration of their existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multidisciplinary geographically based teams. This is part of the HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people from birth to 18 years of age.
The key objective of this programme is to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services, regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of the individual child's difficulties. Evidence to date from areas where this has been rolled out shows that implementation of this programme will also have a positive impact on waiting lists for both assessments of need and therapy provision.
An increase in the number of therapy posts has been identified as a priority requirement to meet current unmet need and projected future needs in children's disability services nationally. In this regard, last year's budget provided for the recruitment of an additional 100 therapy posts to help reduce the long waiting times for assessment and to support interventions for children who need them. The recruitment process for these posts is well under way. There were 63 in post by the end of the first week in November, and the remaining 37 are expected to be in post before the end of the year.