Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Mental Health Services
I submitted this question originally following a reply to a parliamentary question I received in April which showed that 503 children in County Wexford were waiting for autism spectrum disorder, ASD, assessment. The incredible number of 436 children have been waiting for more than 12 months. This is an increase of 142 children who have been waiting for more than a year since September 2020. These families are desperate for help but it appears the situation is getting worse. I ask the Minister of State to outline what will be done to address this acute situation in County Wexford.
I thank the Deputy for raising the question. The first quarterly HSE assessment of need report for 2021 indicates that as of 31 March 2021, the commencement of four assessments and the completion of 85 assessments were overdue in the Wexford area. Children who applied for an assessment of need after January 2020 will receive a preliminary team assessment. In some cases, these assessments will identify a requirement for a diagnostic autism spectrum disorder assessment. In the first quarter of 2021, 27 children in the south-east community healthcare area, which includes Wexford, were referred for follow-up assessments. This is the latest information available for individual counties in light of the recent cyberattack on the HSE's IT systems.
I was in Carlow and Kilkenny yesterday with Deputy Murnane O'Connor. I met representatives of the Holy Angels Day Care Centre to discuss the query the Deputy has raised on early intervention for children who need to access preschool services. I have taken it on board and I will meet the HSE on Friday morning to address this vital issue regarding early intervention assessments.
It is not good enough that these continuing assessments would be ongoing while we are rolling out the progressing disability services, PDS, model. This factors into the question the Deputy asked and which Deputy Murnane O'Connor raised with me yesterday regarding the Holy Angels service. While I do not have access to the data because of the cyberattack, I need to be sure that no child is being denied a service because an early intervention is not being done to get him or her into preschool, whether an ASD preschool service or a preschool catering for complex needs. I will have an answer on that point on Friday.
I thank the Minister of State. As she is aware, when a family receives a diagnosis of autism for a child, there are changes that may need to be made in terms of education, healthcare and other supports to ensure the continued heath, well-being and happiness of the child. These appropriate supports cannot be put in place if a family is left waiting for an assessment. This is highly stressful for the children, parents and siblings involved. It also affects school allocations of special needs assistants, SNAs. Some of these parents are in a state of desperation, trying to scrape together enough money to get a private assessment for their child. It appears that the cost of an assessment that would be accepted by the HSE is between €1,450 and €1,850. We cannot and should not have a situation where money is a factor in whether children receive the supports they require. That is wrong. These children and their families must be made an immediate priority for assessment. They cannot wait any longer. Can the Minister of State offer an remedy for the growing waiting lists for ASD assessment in Wexford?
As I said, this time last year, funding amounting to €7.8 million was made available through the Sláintecare initiative to address the backlog of assessments of needs. Since then, more than 80% of that funding has been delivered and we have managed to move forward with the PDS initiative. I have a concern in regard to CHO 5, however, in terms of ensuring all assessments are continuing.
We are really having two different conversations here. When I talk about health, I am talking about an interventions-based and needs-based model. The education side is about diagnosis-based assessments. There is a conversation that needs to happen between the Departments of Health and Education to ensure all children can access all services, including education. While they are receiving an intervention, they should not have to be waiting on a diagnosis. An intervention should happen the minute a therapist meets a child, whether it is speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy. Children should not have to wait for a piece of paper showing an assessment to determine which strand of education they can access.
Between parents coming into my office worried sick about the time it is taking to get an ASD assessment and school principals contacting me in desperation about their SNA allocations for the coming year, it is clear that the issue of supports for children is growing more urgent by the week. The response to a parliamentary question I put down last September showed that 294 children had been waiting more than 12 months for an assessment at that time. When I submitted the same question at the end of April, that figure had increased to 436. I do not want to put the question forward again in September and be told there has been another increase. These are real children with skills and talents to offer the world. We must do all we can to ensure they can flourish in their full potential. They must not be left behind. I hope I have convinced the Minister of State that an intervention in County Wexford is urgently needed.
It is not just in County Wexford that this issue arises; the entire CHO 5 needs to be addressed. For every child that is presenting through CHO 5, I need to ensure that an early assessment is taking place and, thereafter, that an intervention is happening while we are waiting for the roll-out of the PDS framework. No child and no family should have to access private services. The whole purpose of my seeking funding to clear the backlog last year was to ensure we get to an intervention-based model, not an assessment process. An assessment should mean getting access to a place where we have interventions and services being delivered to families. That would cut down on the frustration people are feeling. The most important point in regard to the Deputy's question is that progress really hinges on people having the piece of paper that enables them to access either preschool facilities, such as the Holy Angels service I referred to, or national schools. I will be addressing this matter on Friday.