Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]


6:10 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I welcome that my party has tabled this motion. I welcome the fact the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is here to address the issues specifically, as is her colleague the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.

The Minister of State referred to 1,860 cases. I ask her to respond to this later in the debate. The HSE has advised me that on 8 April, the number of overdue applications for assessment of needs was 5,078. On the face of it, there seems to be a contradiction between the figures the Minister of State mentioned this evening for the numbers who are waiting and the figures supplied to me by the HSE. It is a major issue to have 5,078 children overdue for assessment of needs. I would be very grateful if the Minister of State could respond to that. If there are now only 1,860 cases, that would indeed be significant progress. While I do not wish to be cynical, the Minister of State will forgive me if I question the figures presented to us tonight. I seek further clarity on that.

We were forced to table tonight's motion because thousands of children throughout the State still do not have access to follow-on services. For instance, the number of patients under the age of 18 awaiting audiology treatment in February 2021 was 9,486. Within that, the community healthcare organisation, CHO, with the highest number was CHO 4, covering Cork and Kerry, with 2,118 awaiting audiology follow on services.

The number of patients under the age of 18 awaiting occupational therapy was 18,753. Within that, CHO 8, covering Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Louth and Meath, was the highest with 3,760 awaiting services.

For dietetics, the number of children waiting for treatment in February 2021 was 4,232. The area with the highest number was CHO 5, covering south Tipperary, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford with a waiting list of 1,174. These are all children and young people under the age of 18.

Approximately 14,000 children were awaiting ophthalmology treatment and the area with the highest number was CHO 2, covering Galway, Roscommon, and Mayo, with 4,842 people waiting for ophthalmology for follow-on services.

For physiotherapy, the figure was 10,000 as of February 2021. The area with the highest number was CHO 7, covering Kildare, west Wicklow, Dublin west, Dublin city south, and Dublin south west, with approximately 2,600 waiting.

I appreciate the point the Minister of State has made on the focus on assessment of needs. I appreciate the progress that has been made. We acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is the first Minister in a number of years to have tackled the lethargy within the HSE on this issue. It is extraordinary that a Minister of State has to push back against officials within the HSE, who do not want to deliver these services and will find every excuse not to. We wish her well in that regard.

However, this is about children. Notwithstanding the arguments that have been made about assessment of needs and the methodologies which have been critiqued by psychologists regarding how that list has been dramatically reduced and if we accept at face value that they have been reduced, there is still the significant issue of the follow-on services. Some €7.8 million was spent on this and I welcome that the Ministers were able to secure this amount. However, the HSE paid €8.7 million to Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC for consultancy services during the pandemic. That figure came in the response to a parliamentary question I received last week. We need to start prioritising things in the HSE.


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