Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Disability Services

6:45 pm

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of the Cope Foundation facility in Bandon, which is closed at the moment, and the impact this is having on the Cope facility in Clonakilty. As the Minister of State knows well, at the start of Covid disability services were scaled back and closed in certain instances. The Minister of State fought really hard to ensure that those facilities were reopened to the fullest extent they could be at the time. During subsequent lockdowns she rallied to keep those facilities open. That is really important. However, in the Cope facility in Bandon during one of those lockdowns a refurbishment happened. Since then, and we are talking a good while ago now, Cope has not reopened that residential facility for adults with intellectual disabilities and very high needs. It has remained closed. It is that old chestnut that keeps cropping up, namely, the difficulty in recruiting staff.

This has severely impacted the provision of services to people with high needs in the Bandon-Clonakilty region. The decision was made to relocate some of the service users into the facility in Clonakilty. I would not have an issue with anybody receiving any type of service. However, it meant that certain residents who had been in the Clonakilty facility for years had to be cared for at home. I mention one gentleman whose name I have permission to use, Liam Sheehy. He is a gentleman from the Clonakilty area who was availing of the residential services in Clonakilty. As a result of the situation in the Cope facility in Bandon, he is no longer doing so. The stress and strain that change in circumstances has caused to Liam are huge. Furthermore, the stress and strain of the family now having to care for Liam's needs have had an enormous impact. That is the reality on the ground created by the simple closure of a facility that has not been reopened, although it has been refurbished to a very high standard by all accounts. Other service users who have availed of residential facilities in Bandon and Clonakilty find themselves in the same situation. It is not good enough.

I appreciate the Minister of State's very quick correspondence when she wrote to me about this matter, which she escalated. However, the fact of the matter is that the service in Bandon remains closed. I urge the Minister of State to do everything she can and leave no stone unturned to ensure that services reopen and the likes of Liam Sheehy can return to some form of routine and avail of the services he had availed of previously in Clonakilty. I spoke to the family just before coming in here. We are hearing talk of a potential February date for reopening the Cope facility in Bandon, which would be very welcome if it were the case. I would appreciate if we could get some type of confirmation on that.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for giving us the opportunity to have this very important conversation. We can use Liam Sheehy's name. He represents an awful lot of other Liams around the country, which is unfortunate. When Covid hit, providers had to be agile in their approach and they made changes to ensure they could deliver services to as many people as possible with the staff they had. Time has moved on in respect of Bandon. I met the CEO of the Cope Foundation only recently. His real challenge is in recruitment of staff. We met Gobnait Ní Chrualaoí of CoAction as well. Her challenge is staff. That is not an excuse but the real, hard reality.

It is not right to displace any person from his or her community into another community when he or she has built up relationships and got to know people. No stone can be left unturned to ensure Liam can return to his rightful place in Clonakilty. When we are doing that, we are also displacing others. At the same time, we have to be the advocates for persons with disabilities. They sometimes do not have that voice. These are their homes and what they know. We would not do it to a person who had the ability to articulate for themselves. There would be a protest on the streets if we were moving people out of their homes and relocating them to different hubs. I will leave no stone unturned for any Liam around the country. I have exactly the same problem further down in the Beara Breifne Way, as the Deputy is aware, where we have relocated three people out of their home in order to make it work for their provider. We have to make it work for the person with disabilities. We have to acknowledge their needs, their home. It is their picture, their chair that they sit in, their bed that they go to bed in.

We have not forgotten that but we had to work in a pandemic. Now, as Omicron and Covid are subsiding, I have no doubt that everyone of my providers will leave no stone unturned because they have the person with a disability at heart. I have no doubt that Cope will work with us to ensure that Liam is returned to the service in Clonakilty and all his other colleagues are as well. We also have a problem with the hub in Macroom for our school leavers. I have no doubt the Cope Foundation will ensure that the hub in Macroom will open now the works have been done on it, and that the school leavers, who have not had a full opportunity to participate as school leavers transitioning into that space, will be able to access that service.

The topic the Deputy has raised has a real human side to it. It is a person's home, what he or she knows and his or her community. I will work with the Deputy to ensure it happens.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. I am delighted with what she has said. She hit the nail on the head and mirrored exactly what Liam's family said to me before I came into the Chamber, namely, that Liam does not have a voice. He needs a voice and people like him need a voice. The Minister of State is right that if the same thing was happening to someone who was able to articulate issues, it might not have got to this. Liam does not have a voice. I am trying to be that voice for Liam to ensure his needs are met. Perhaps we could double-check on the potential reopening of the Cope service in Bandon in February. That would solve a lot of problems.

Since the Minister of State mentioned it, the issue of the residential houses in Castletownbere is still lingering on. The Minister of State has highlighted the issue, which is one of recruitment. I would like her to touch on one thing, as it came from her. It would be a fantastic idea not just for CoAction but also for Cope. During the pandemic, public sector HSE nursing home staff were transferred to private nursing homes to fill the gap. It was done very effectively. We are in a similar situation here. It is not a pandemic but it is a crisis where we cannot get staff for our disability services. Could something similar be looked at whereby public healthcare staff who are experts in caring for people with high needs could be reallocated to the likes of the Cope facility in Bandon or the CoAction service in Castletownbere?

6:55 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy mentioned that the Minister of State had hit the nail on the head. She is always very accurate with her hammer.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of some residential disability services in line with public health advice. The Deputy knows how many there are in Cork. He is representing them, as is his colleague, Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan. They are doing a phenomenal job in bringing this matter to my attention and working with Ms Majella Daly, the local HSE and various providers on trying to get this matter addressed.

The Government is committed to supporting people with disabilities to live ordinary lives in ordinary places. As the House will be aware, officials in the Department of Health are working on an action plan to progress the implementation of the capacity review of disability services that was published last year. The action plan will help to guide the Government in planning to meet changing needs and demographics and ensure that people with disabilities can get the right services in the right places at the right time.

Regarding residential services in Bandon, I am assured that the Cork-Kerry community healthcare disability services will continue engaging with the Cope Foundation in order to expedite the resumption of services. If we are told it will be in February, then we will hold to that timeframe and get it done in February.

What the Deputy mentioned is important. It relates to a conversation that he and I had previously and it is important that I share it with the House. Where there are services that have closed and as society opens up after the pandemic, we need to consider the HSE's skill set. It may be able to assist us in redeploying some of its staff. When we talk about the place down at the very south-----

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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Castletownbere.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I get them all mixed up. If we could find a person to act as the whole-time equivalent, it would mean that all the other care assistants could come in and the three or four residents could return to their home. That would be a welcome development on the part of the HSE in ensuring the reopening of all services.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State and the Deputies who raised Topical Issue matters.