Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Services for People with Disabilities: Statements

 

2:15 pm

Joe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)

I am sharing time with Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan. I wish the Minister of State well in her new role and commend her on the significant body of work that she his achieved to date and, specifically, today's announcement on funding to clear the backlog of young people waiting for an AON. It is much needed and I hope, in respect of my parish and county, that it will enable the Phoenix Centre in Longford, which operates a special needs unit, to return to optimum capacity. A number of staff are swabbing in Covid centres and it is important that this funding will facilitate their return to mainstream duties.

I will hone in on a couple of local points specific to St. Christopher's Services in Longford. It employs 220 people with a range of residential and day care facilities. When lockdown kicked in, unfortunately, 12 of the day care staff had to be redeployed to cover residential settings. As a consequence, the service is now catering for, at best, 55% of its day service users and those users are only getting a limited service. I have exchanged correspondence with the Minister of State about this. To expand day service provision to other families, the centre will need to repatriate 12 staff, but that will come at a cost of in the region of €580,000. The reality is that without that additional funding the centre will not be able to provide a full day care service. My colleague, Deputy Moynihan, spoke very passionately about how we need to get back to a full resumption of day care services, and that means activating transport services, getting everybody back and providing the services that people need. The reality is that service users are suffering in isolation. We need to get them back into services. As I have outlined, that will come at a cost. We have to realise that this cost can, and will be, discounted in the context of the well-being of those people when they get back into a familiar setting.

The backbone of the St. Christopher's organisation is its 220 staff. The Minister of State will be aware that it is a section 39 organisation. We have had a number of conversations about this, but she will know that a festering issue for this and many similar organisations has been the fact that since 2013, St. Christopher's has been unable to pay or award its staff their much deserved increments. This issue has to be addressed because this wonderful facility is struggling to retain and recruit staff. Over the past year, it has lost 20 of its most experienced and capable staff. Sadly, many have gone directly to HSE facilities, which is cruelly demoralising for management but also colleagues who have remained in St. Christopher's.

The Minister of State has visited many facilities. On behalf of the staff and management in St. Christopher's, I extend an invitation to her to come and visit the facility, as well as the Phoenix Centre in Longford. When she visits them, she will realise their important place in the hearts of the people of Longford. I look forward to welcoming her in the coming weeks.

I am also very anxious to get clarity on the transition of a young service user in St. Christopher's to adult day services who has been with the service from a very young age. He started in the Holly Green crèche and is delighted to have progressed through the service. He has a great affinity with St .Christopher's and the staff, and it has been a huge part of not only his life, but that of his entire family. The Minister of State has ring-fenced funding for the transition of this young service user and a number of his peers around the country to adult services, but it is important that she impresses upon the HSE that this transition needs to happen in the short term, if not immediately. The reality is that this young man has seen his siblings return to school and is, unfortunately, simply unable to comprehend why he has not been able to return to his beloved St. Christopher's.

I refer to a second service user about whom I have conversed on a number of occasions with the Minister of State in recent weeks. A 48-year old service user is currently in a facility in Mullingar. His parents are in their 80s and he is undergoing dialysis. It was always the family's expectation and desire that their son be transferred back to St. Christopher's in Ballymahon as it is much more convenient for them. They live approximately eight miles away and want to be close to their son, particularly as the winter months set in.

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