Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Topical Issue Debate

Addiction Treatment Services

6:20 pm

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State into the Chamber to discuss this matter, for what is probably the second or third time in the past two years. Hopefully we can achieve a positive outcome. I spoke to the Minister of State about this in recent times. The Abbey Community Project is a group in Celbridge that provides important counselling and dual diagnosis services to people with different addictions such as alcohol addiction, drug addiction, etc. The group comes at these from the perspectives of both mental health and addiction treatment. Qualified counsellors provide the services. I know that the Minister of State is familiar with the group .

I met the Minister for Health regarding this issue last July. He believed this was a good model, with the service established in the community with good support and providing an excellent service. Given the HSE was not able to provide the service in the way that was intended, he felt this was a model that should be supported. This project that has received plaudits from the Minister, the Minister of State and her colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly. The HSE is in favour of it, as is the South-Western Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, yet ten years on, the group is without any funding. Its members raise funds to cover public liability insurance by chipping in themselves or carrying out a bucket collection. They do this on a voluntary basis. The project has seen more than 500 people and has 75 or 80 live cases on its books at the moment. I have a copy of a memorandum of understanding which provides for the HSE to give the project referrals. That is a reflection of its status. Unfortunately, I also have a letter from the task force and the HSE acknowledging the service the project provides and suggesting that it could, and should be, supported in its work, which is badly needed in that area and beyond, but unfortunately cannot be without funding.

I ask the Minister of State to prioritise this case and allocate funding. This organisation is not looking for a massive sum. It just needs money to cover its own overheads such as office hire, which is free at the moment, insurance, the day-to-day running of the facility; and remuneration for the two qualified counsellors who have provided the service on a voluntary basis for ten years.

If we are serious about mental health issues, drug addiction and assisting people to get back on the right road and giving them the supports they need at all the different levels, we need to act and support this group, otherwise it will not be sustainable. The group cannot continue to operate as it is without funding. Everyone acknowledges that this is a worthwhile project, but it needs funding to continue. After all the discussions, meetings and engagements I have had with the Minister of State and all the other Ministers over the past two years - I have been raising this since I came into this House - I hope that we can achieve a positive outcome. I hope that we can get the project the funding, resources and supports that are needed because, to date, it has not received a cent. It was indicated last year that it would be allocated €3,500, but when the staff went looking for that to pay the insurance, they were told that the funding was no longer available.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. When I conclude my contribution, he probably will not be happy, but I will explain as I go along.

The Department of Health co-ordinates the strategic response to drug and alcohol problems, as set out in Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - A health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025. An objective of that strategy is to achieve better health and social outcomes for people who have experienced harm from substance misuse, and to meet their recovery and rehabilitation needs.

Ensuring timely access to health and social care services and extending the range of treatment options available is essential to achieving better outcomes. To this end, the strategy commits to expanding the availability and geographical spread of relevant quality drug and alcohol services and improving the range of services available, based on identified need. Drug and alcohol task forces play a key role in assessing the extent and nature of substance misuse in their areas, and in supporting community responses, as part of a co-ordinated approach involving all sectors at local and regional levels.

The south western regional drug and alcohol task force covers south and west Dublin, west Wicklow and Kildare. I am aware that the Deputy is a member of the task force and I thank him for dedicating his time to this initiative and other groups in the area. As the Deputy is aware, the task force supports many community addiction services in Kildare. These include the Abbey Regional Addiction Service, the HALO project for those aged under 18 and various community and family support projects In addition, the HSE provides addiction services in the county, including outreach workers and addiction counsellors. In 2018, the Department of Health allocated €3.2 million to fund the expansion of drug and alcohol treatment services. Kildare has been prioritised under this funding and I understand the HSE recently submitted a proposal to the Department of Health for an addiction day service in the county, at a cost of almost €260,000. This service will cater for up to 80 clients at full capacity.

I understand the Abbey community project has met the task force to discuss its funding proposal and this was subsequently forwarded to the HSE. I advise that the project continues to engage with these bodies to advance its proposal, which can be considered as part of the Estimates process for the HSE for 2019.

I very much appreciate the importance of community based projects such as the Abbey community project in Celbridge, County Kildare, in offering support to individuals and their families affected by substance abuse and mental health issues. Such projects provide a vital first step for those affected by drugs in seeking recovery. They reflect a compassionate and human approach to addiction underpinned by values of respect, equality and inclusion. I assure the Deputy the expansion of the drug and alcohol treatment service will continue to be a priority under the national drug strategy in order that counties such as Kildare, which have an expanding urban population, are adequately catered for in terms of available and accessible services.

6:30 pm

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. I am a member of the task force but, unfortunately, I do not get to attend too many of the meetings because they overlap with proceedings in this House on a Tuesday. I thank the Minister of State for acknowledging it.

The difficulty with this is we are without a commitment for funding. While I respect and understand what the Minister of State has said in her statement, if we are serious about supporting people and providing such a valuable and worthwhile service, and that has been acknowledged by everybody at various levels all the way down the chain, why is there not a commitment in place to give it funding and start the funding stream for them? It is engaging with the task force, as the Minister of State has correctly pointed out, but it has engaged ad nauseam. It has followed that path through. Obviously, it will continue to attend the meetings but it has gone to the full process. It had an excellent system in place but to meet current guidelines it had to be tweaked, fine-tuned and modified. We engaged positively with the system to ensure the i's were dotted and the t's crossed. That is all in place. I have letters from the task force and the HSE confirming that the house is in order in this regard.

It is acknowledged that, with regard to 80 of the cases it is dealing with at present, if it was not there to see those people, under the heading of dual diagnosis and on individual mental health and drug addiction issues, it would probably be very difficult for those people to find a service anywhere else that would give them the notice and supports they are getting, and who knows where some of them would have ended up.

The point I am trying to focus on is that while everyone is committed, and I get that and I hear it, now we have to measure that commitment with funding. I am asking, two years on, when will this group be given a commitment that it will be included in the funding and it will get it, even on an incremental basis. Otherwise it cannot go on, and if it closes its doors it will put massive pressure and strain on a system that already cannot cope with the numbers it is getting, not to mention another 80 cases. We should work together to try to bring this over the line.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I will refer back to the structure of the new strategy on reducing harm, support and recovery. I am very much dedicated to helping people through the strategy of bringing people into services, particularly with regard to recovery and counselling. It is not in my remit to allocate money to certain individual groups. The allocation of money through the strategy on reducing harm, support and recovery is through the local task forces. It is up to the service to make a case to the local drugs task force if it is short of money in order to be able to be included in the budget.

I have listened to all of the drugs task forces throughout the country stating they have been starved of money since 2008. We are in a new process here. We did not have the money but now we are starting to see a better avenue of funding coming down the line. This is what I want to concentrate on and bring in as many groups as possible. This is not the first time a Deputy has stopped me or asked me to look for funding for other groups. It is happening every day. I get emails from individual groups who do not get any money from the HSE or the task force. I am not in a position to give a commitment to any project on its own to fund it. The only way I can do it is through the task forces. We will be looking at funding the task forces through the budget on an evidence basis. I am reviewing the task forces at present with regard to their structures and this takes time. I hope that as we enter the next budget there will be the possibility of more funding being available to go to the task forces, but on an evidence basis. It will be up to the projects to apply.

I cannot stand here and tell the Deputy this project will get money this year. I cannot say it because it would be unfair to all of the other Deputies and people who write to me on a daily basis looking for money. All of the money for the drugs initiatives is centred through the task forces. That is why they were put there. I will continue to keep it at the top of the agenda. As I said, I hope that with the budget coming up we will be able to make cases for these groups and projects, because that is what I want. I want the task forces to be able to facilitate groups such as that which the Deputy has been speaking about to help them with extra funding in order that they can continue to work with those people who are most vulnerable in our communities. At present I am not able to stand up here and commit to give a certain budget to this project.