Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Services for People with Disabilities: Statements

 

1:15 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)

I am honoured to serve as Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities in the new Government. I take very seriously the responsibility and opportunity to have a positive effect on the lives of thousands of people with a disability in Ireland. I want to be the Minister of State who reimagines how disability is viewed in this country. Disabilities are not merely a health issue. People with disabilities have a human right to be considered in every Government portfolio, be it health, transport, employment, sports or arts. We must ensure that every person in society, regardless of their abilities, is valued and supported in being able to fully participate in society.

In this debate, I want to focus on the most pressing issues that have been raised with me in recent weeks. I will listen with great interest to the views of the speakers who will follow me this afternoon. Disability services are provided in various settings by many organisations throughout the country. In the age of Covid-19, these organisations have had to adapt to do their best to ensure that services can continue to be provided. I acknowledge the commitment of these services over the past six months in supporting and protecting those with a disability who attend the health and social care services. However, I am sure Deputies will agree that realistically the provision of these services will not be as it was prior to Covid for some time to come. It would be misleading of me to say otherwise.

The New Directions policy has guided change in the day service sector. It has helped to reconfigure day services, in a person-centred way, prioritising community inclusion, active citizenship, and high-quality service provision. However, as the House will be aware, in line with the public health advice, disability day service locations closed in March. The Department of Health, the HSE and day service providers know how vital disability supports are for people and their families, and want services resume as soon as possible. Service providers have been working tirelessly since the recent publication of guidance to get day services ready to reopen safely and in line with public health guidance. A total of 90% of day services have now reopened but they are not open at the same level as prior to Covid. The remaining services will re-open this month.

Children's disability services were also stepped down last March. Through the pandemic, services continued to be provided on the phone and online, with face to face services for some children and families with high prioritised needs. At the end of July, the HSE issued two guidance documents to support the resumption of children's disability services to its nine community healthcare organisations, CHOs, throughout the country. The guidance maps the pathway of access to services and supports, commencing with phone and online supports, and where these do not meet the needs of the child or the family, moving to face to face interventions and what is required to do so safely. I hope this will lead to a gradual return to services as they were provided before but, as I mentioned, it will not be possible in the near future.

An issue I specifically want to address is the long waiting periods for some families to get an assessment of need, AON, appointment for their child. This is a priority for me. I am very aware of the challenges to families with the waiting times for a child requiring an assessment of need. The HSE has made a number of changes to the process, such as a revised standard operating procedure and the appointment of network disability managers, but there are still many waiting too long. I do not want to allow waiting lists to continue to grow so I am pleased to announce to the House today that I have secured an additional, once-off €7.8 million in 2020, which will allow the HSE to address the current backlog of overdue assessments of need around the country. This work will begin immediately in accordance with individual plans set out in each CHO area.

Processes are under way to plan for the reintroduction of respite services for people with a disability and their families. The HSE has developed a roadmap for the reopening of disability respite services, which is now available on the HSE website. The HSE supports approximately 8,300 residential places for people with a disability under the national service plan. The plan also provides for an additional 64 emergency residential placements for allocation during the year.

Residential placements are provided on the basis of need and within available resources. The HSE engages with families to ensure those with the greatest need are prioritised. This has been a particular focus of the HSE during the Covid-19 emergency. In recognition of the additional pressures faced by many families, the HSE is providing 144 intensive in-home respite support packages for emergency cases this year. We will continue with the decongregation programme and move more people with disabilities from congregated settings to homes in the community with the necessary supports. Although there have been particular challenges this year, I am pleased that so far 52 people have moved to their new homes in the community.

The voluntary sector in the provision of health and personal social services to people with a disability is remarkable and we owe it a debt of gratitude. Its flexibility and collaborative approach in working with the HSE to respond to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic is brilliant. I am aware that a number of section 38 and section 39 disability organisations have reported they are facing financial challenges and have incurred deficits during this time. In recognition of this, the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, and I have asked the HSE to relieve section 38 and section 39 disability service providers of the obligation to achieve the 1% efficiency target set out in the 2020 national service plan. I look forward to listening to the contributions of my colleagues this afternoon and I thank them for their time.

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