Thursday, 14 November 2019
Progressing Children's Disability Services: Statements
There is a young woman in Wicklow who has spina bifida and who is in a wheelchair. Her spine is curving as she grows, as a result of her condition. Her wheelchair cushion, therefore, needs to be adapted as her spine curves. I met her mum, who told me that she could not use her wheelchair anymore because her spine had curved to such a degree that she could not use the cushion. It causes her excruciating pain to sit in the wheelchair for any time. I asked her what her daughter does and I was told that she sits on the floor. I asked whether there was a new cushion coming and her mum told me that there was not and that they were still waiting on an AON for a new cushion. I asked her how long her daughter had been waiting for an assessment for a new cushion. She said it had been more than a year. That is the reality for children with disabilities in this country.
The Government talks about strategies, launches and initiatives but nothing seems to happen. The HSE disability team is doing its damnedest to help but it does not have the resources it needs. All over Ireland, children with disabilities continue to suffer. Parents might think their kid has an issue when that kid is aged two. That child may get an AON at five and then, perhaps, some support when he or she is seven. The potential of that child diminishes in those five years. That is the reality of disability services in this country today.
The Minister of State referenced 100 posts that were meant to be filled this year. It is mid-November and fewer than half have been filled. He also referenced 1,000 new therapy posts that are in the budget for next year. I looked at the numbers and there is no money in next year's budget for 1,000 post; there is only money for 160.
Almost 4,000 children with a disability are overdue for an AON. More than 8,000 are waiting for physiotherapy. Almost 20,000 children are waiting just to be assessed for occupational therapy, 8,000 of whom have been waiting for more than a year. They are waiting just for an assessment to be put on another list to get therapy. Almost 40,000 people are now waiting for speech and language therapy, most of whom are children. That is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Arklow, Wicklow town and Greystones combined. This figure is just for children with disabilities waiting for speech and language therapy. As they wait, they deteriorate and the future they could have diminishes. Inclusion Ireland has found that one in four children with a disability is being denied the opportunity to attend school for a full day. This is not okay. The programme for Government states that people with disabilities should be supported "in maximising their potential, by removing barriers which impact on access to services, education, work or healthcare".
Children are being excluded. There has been a €1 billion overspend on one hospital, and there is no money. Some €3.5 billion has been spent on a broadband project that should have cost €500 million, but there is no money. There are unprecedented tax breaks for vulture funds, but there is no money. We have the biggest healthcare budget by a mile in Ireland's history, but there is no money. Even when there is money, there is no delivery. The solutions do not constitute not rocket science. We have solved this before, and other countries have solved it. We need to stop the overspending and target the money where it is needed, treat our healthcare staff well so we can keep those we have and hire new personnel, fund community healthcare properly so that children can be assessed - and when they are assessed they can get the supports for which they have been assessed - and use the National Treatment Purchase Fund as a short-term measure to get help now for those children who have been waiting.
I met a woman in Greystones recently whose child has special needs and requires help. He has been waiting for two or three years for speech and language therapy. About three months ago, the woman received two letters through her door on the same day. The first was from the disability service provider that serves north Wicklow. It stated that it had no resources, that it was not even going to put her son on a list and that it would be another two years at least before he gets any help in the form of his first therapy session. The other letter was a very nicely designed and printed leaflet from the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, telling her when the Rugby World Cup games were on. She asked me: "How is there money for the Minister for Health to drop a leaflet through my door telling me when the Rugby World Cup was on, but he does not have the money for one speech and language therapy session for my son?" That is the reality of disability in this country today. We need to do better. The children deserve better.