Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
Michael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. I welcome the Minister of State and I thank her for making one of her first visits to service users in St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville, where she met the parents of service users at the end of July. I think she got a broad sense of the challenges facing not only St. Joseph's in Charleville or the parents in Duhallow in north Cork, but throughout the country.
There are several issues in the disability sector. In recent years, the sector has been underfunded and forgotten. In many of the contributions I made in the last Dáil, I sought further respite for families, as well as assessments of need etc. I therefore welcome this morning's announcement. Regarding assessments of need, we must look at the highly trained and highly qualified people in the HSE and try to ensure that they are not taken away from their fundamental duties in assessing children for special attention and special services. We should try to ensure that the assessment of need takes place at an appropriate time and as quickly as possible because many people are struggling with extreme difficulty, especially in the early stages, and they are meeting a brick wall.
This brings me to the HSE. St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville - the Minister of State met the people there - spans Limerick, Cork and Kerry. Of the two sections in the HSE, it is easy to deal with one, but extremely difficult to deal with the other. It is one HSE and one national health service. When funding for the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities is being sought, people go to one section, where it is possible to meet with people. Alas, people find the other section covering Cork and Kerry extremely challenging to deal with. I am at a loss as to why that is the case. It is fundamental to how we treat section 38 and section 39 organisations. We have a briefing in the morning with the HSE South and I will be raising this issue then, because service providers such as St. Joseph's Foundation, in my area, the COPE Foundation and others are doing extraordinary work.
I do not know how this was arrived at, but there was a 1% efficiency cut in the last budget. Where were these efficiencies supposed to come from? There is penny-pinching here and penny-pinching there and we must ask if the HSE is trying to get rid of these voluntary organisations and bring all these services under the umbrella of the HSE. Is that what the HSE is at? I would urge caution on that approach, because the voluntary organisations have the voluntary ethos, commitment and brand that allows them to fundraise within their communities. It is important that the integrity and identity of those organisations is maintained and that we support these section 38 section 39 organisations.
Regarding the section 39 organisations and the matter of insurance, they are providing services to users and their families on behalf of the State. I believe funding regarding those organisations should be included within the remit of the State Claims Agency. Some of the service providers have had astronomical insurance costs of more than €500,000 and that is draining their resources.
Where are we today regarding disability services? Families and service users are faced with major challenges and have not been able to avail of services since the first week in March. The service users have found it very difficult and challenging and many have regressed. Many people in this situation thrive on routine and have built up friendships and a community within their organisations. It has not been possible, however, for the organisations to facilitate the service users recently. The services are now, slowly, reopening for one and two days a week.
The Minister of State spoke passionately about this subject when she was in north Cork. There should be a commitment that these services will be open five days a week. Transport must be provided in the way that it used to be. We must dig deep to give the service users and their families the best possible experience. Transport is hugely important and is also a huge cost, but it has not been provided for the last six months because the buses have been off the road. Transport must now be provided for the morning and the evening. Regarding day services, many people are looking at community day services having portals or hubs in different locations, but the services provided must be the same in each location. These services have been built up and the users have been happy and content with them. We must ensure that the same services are provided now.
We must take onboard several of the points made today, such as the issue of the UN Convention and all of that but I think we should look to the service users and their families in our State who are under enormous pressure and have been under enormous pressure in the past couple of months. It is 10 September and we must ask how we can get the best services for those people in the days and weeks to come.
I am referring to the provision of a full five-day service and a full transport service. A full service might not be possible now, because we know the challenges faced in every sector because of the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions. I compliment the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, and the Department of Education and Skills for getting the schools reopened. The same urgency must be applied in the approach to the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities and their families. They have suffered enormously in the last six or seven months.
It is high time that we agreed to grasp this issue. There is no doubt that this is a challenge and there is huge pressure involved. It will be a challenge to get all the service providers up and running across the country. There had been a funding shortfall heretofore.
I am glad that the Minister of State reversed the 1% efficiency cut. I do not know how anybody in his or her right mind could have classified that as an efficiency cut because these organisations were on the breadline. I compliment the Minister of State on the meeting she had just after we met in Charleville at which she got that 1% cut reversed because it was a lifeline to the service providers, families and service users. We must get full day care services back and provide transport for these families because many people are getting elderly and rely on public transport to access services.