Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Hospital Waiting Lists: Motion [Private Members]
The main point I want to address is the Opposition's claim that children with additional needs are forced to wait an average of 19 months for an assessment of need, despite the legal right of three months. As I have said in the House a number of times, one of my priorities on assuming ministerial responsibility for disability was to remedy the number of overdue assessments of need for children across the country. At the end of June 2020, the backlog had risen to approximately 6,500 children. Having successfully secured Sláintecare funding of €7.8 million to tackle the backlog, I am pleased to inform the House that, by the end of last month, the waiting list had been reduced to approximately 600 cases, a reduction of 91%.
This breaks down across all the CHOs. In CHO 1, when I inherited the role, I had 138. Today there is nil. In CHO 2, there were 100 and today there is nil. In CHO 3, there was 589. There were 16 at the end of August. In CHO 4, there were 1,098. At the end of August it was nil. In CHO 5, it was 643. It is now nil. In CHO 6, it was 257. It is now nil. In CHO 7, it was 1,056. It is now nil. In CHO 8, it was 764. At the end of August it was 21. In CHO 9, it was 1,913. At the end of August it was 585. The total amount at the end of August was 622. It is worth reminding the House that HSE staff and clinicians achieved this despite challenges posed by the current pandemic and the cyberattack. This Trojan work needs to be recognised and I thank everyone involved for their efforts.
Even more important, the clearing of the backlog allows services to focus on intervention to support the child, which is the key piece I will focus my energies on over the months and years ahead. The old assessment of need, AON, system has been replaced with a uniform approach across the country using a preliminary team assessment, PTA, which ensures these children timely access to services and intervention. There is a current review of that system while we are using it at the moment. From January 2020 to the end of August 2021, a total of 2,504 children received a PTA. A staggering 89% of these children were referred to an intervention pathway based on the outcome of that assessment. This means instead of languishing on waiting lists to find out their diagnosis or the supports they need, parents find out sooner and get on an intervention pathway sooner. This is at the heart of progressing disability services and completely changes how we deliver services and supports to children with additional needs from birth to 18 years of age.
At some stages, this change has been hard for families and clinicians. This is a major cultural shift in how we deliver therapies to children with complex need. Deputy Shortall referenced the word "reform". Progressing disability is one reform Deputies will see in 2021. It has been ten years in the making and is being delivered under this Government.
The HSE is establishing 91 children disability networks across the nine CHOs. I am pleased to say 83 of these network teams are already in place. Under PDS, these teams will provide specialist support services for all children with significant disability, regardless of their diagnosis, where they live or where they go to school. It will mean the end of unacceptable situations where children age out of early intervention teams and will help tackle the current waiting lists, which we all acknowledge are at an unacceptable level.
Now that the issues with waiting times for an AON have largely been addressed, attention must move to the focus on delivery of interventions.
As a result of the formations of the children's disability network teams, CDNTs, I will be able to get a clearer picture of children who are waiting to access therapies under disabilities and those waiting to access therapies under primary care. This will help give clarity to a number of interventions being delivered on each side and every child supported. More importantly, I will have a clear sight of where specific roadblocks in each CHO may be and I will address them. I will meet with the CDNTs every week to track progress. This is an important step in reducing the number of outstanding matters. I will focus on management styles, management delivery and cost-effective measures.
I will hand over to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler.