Thursday, 28 November 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
As the Tánaiste will be aware, next Tuesday is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and many Deputies met representatives of a new organisation, the disability action coalition, in a meeting facilitated by Senator Dolan last week. The coalition comprises nine not-for-profit organisations that fall under section 39 of the Health Act 2004. The coalition comprises Rehab, Enable Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association, MS Ireland, Headway Ireland, National Council for the Blind, Chime, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and Cheshire Ireland. As we all know, they cater for tens of thousands of our citizens with disabilities in our constituencies and employ more than 9,000 dedicated staff members.
The coalition informed us about its research last week, which shows a funding shortfall of at least €20 million between those organisations each year. That is only the amount required to keep services going and those organisations have had to cut services over recent years, including respite and day services and a range of specialist services for children and adults. That has happened because the funding they receive from the HSE simply does not match the cost of delivering those services. They have also faced additional costs in recent years, including pay restoration and unwinding the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI; additional regulations and compliance costs, which are necessary; and soaring insurance costs with which the Government has not dealt.
Many organisations are struggling to retain staff because of the difference in pay between section 39 bodies, as defined by the 2004 Act, and section 38 bodies which have HSE staff. This adds substantially to training, recruitment, staff retention and agency staff costs and lengthens waiting lists for people with disabilities. These organisations have tried to bridge the shortfall using their own resources but that is increasingly difficult. Not-for-profit section 39 organisations deliver two thirds of our disability services and are contracted to deliver vital health and social care services. In fact, 35% of the overall disability budget is spent in this area. Although the staff feel they are delivering the same kind of services as HSE staff, these organisations are not fully funded and their employees are not being treated the same.
I raised this with the Tánaiste and the then incoming Taoiseach more than two years ago. The Government set up an independent review group, chaired by Dr. Catherine Day, in late 2017, which reported early this year. Will the Government implement the key recommendations of the report, especially those in chapters 8 and 9? One recommendation is that the Department of Financial Expenditure and Reform should examine the financial analysis of deficits and surpluses of voluntary bodies. The report also recommends a move to multi-annual funding, including budgets for three to five years, and a forum where the HSE, the Department of Health and the voluntary sector, including section 39 bodies, can meet regularly and avoid the annual wrangling over budgets.
Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, meet representatives of the disability action coalition? The emphasis should be on action to try to ensure that the deficits of these nine organisations will be addressed. We are discussing a supplementary health budget in the amount of €338 million.