Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Health Service Executive
1. To ask the Minister for Health his plans to ensure the recommencement of reports by the HSE pursuant to section 13 of the Disability Act 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16792/22]
We had some lengthy discussions on this subject while debating a Private Members' motion we proposed on Tuesday night. As the Minister of State will be aware, I take this issue very seriously. The HSE has been found to be in breach of the law in regard to both preliminary assessments of need for children with disabilities and the submitting of section 13 reports under the Disability Act 2005 to the Minister for Health. Will the Minister of State outline when is it expected those reports will be received? Is it the case the HSE will not appeal the High Court judgment? More important, will he assure us there will not be any efforts by the Government to dilute the rights of children by amending the Act?
The HSE has prepared and presented section 13 annual reports for the years 2007 to 2014, inclusive, to the Department of Health and is working on the section 13 annual report for the years 2015 to 2020, inclusive, to bring the process up to date. It is intended these reports will be completed by year end. The HSE and departmental officials are to meet in the near future to discuss the issue of section 13 reports in greater detail.
The HSE acknowledges the current management information system is no longer fit for purpose in the context of technical changes in recent years in policy, operation and practice, and user requirements. It is committed to the development of a new integrated management information system for children's disability services. This system will include a dedicated module on the assessment of needs process. The delay in submitting section 13 reports to the Department of Health has not impacted on the HSE's ongoing engagement with the Department regarding the requirement for additional resources for children’s disability services. These requirements for additional resources are submitted annually to the Department as part of the Estimates process.
I have to say, I find that answer unsatisfactory. Sometimes when I hear responses to parliamentary questions, I have the view the Government does not understand the magnitude of the crisis. I already have that view of the HSE. Moreover, the HSE has broken the law. My job is to hold the Government to account and the Government has to hold the HSE to account, and the Minister for Health, when responding to this issue on Tuesday evening, made the same point.
The Minister of State stated that not submitting these section 13 reports has not impacted on the ability of the HSE to plan. How can that be the case? If it is the case, that means the HSE had the information all along and simply decided it would break the law and would not give the information to the Minister. Section 13 reports, as set out in the Act, relate to the aggregate needs of all children who have had assessments of need where health and education needs have been identified. The logic of the reports is that they go to the Minister, set out the gaps in staffing and allow the Government to respond and fill those gaps. I do not understand how the Minister of State can suggest the Department has all the information, yet the HSE has not provided it with the statutory reports it is legally obliged to provide.
The HSE is committed to the development of a new integrated management information system for disability services, which will include a module on the assessment of needs process under the Disability Act. This will facilitate the HSE to provide a wide range of reports on the assessment of need activity expected in early 2023. The HSE and departmental officials are scheduled to meet shortly to discuss in greater detail the issue of section 13 reports.
I have two final questions, which either the Minister or the Minister of State might address. Are the current preliminary team assessments still being carried out? Some parents have indicated they have received letters to say they have been paused. We have a right to know if they have been paused.
Will the Minister or the Minister of State give us a guarantee that they will not dilute the 2005 Act? A very senior HSE official, when she was appearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, stated the HSE's hands are tied when it comes to preliminary team assessments under the 2005 Act. She went on to state it might be a solution to amend the Act, which many of us took to mean there could be an attempt to dilute the rights of children under the Act for a proper assessment of need. That is not acceptable and it will be fiercely resisted. It is important that either the Minister or the Minister of State offer a guarantee - I have asked twice now - that they will not dilute the rights of children by amending the Act.
I understand a full review is under way to determine the best approach in the interests of the children involved. I hope we can sort out that. The HSE has prepared and presented section 13 annual reports for the years 2007 to 2014, inclusive, to the Department of Health and is working on the reports for the years 2015 to 2020, inclusive, to bring them up to date. It expects to complete these reports by year end.