Thursday, 14 July 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Minister of State for taking the graveyard shift. I appreciate him being here. Week after week we come into the House to raise matters. On tonight's schedule of Topical Issues, as on many occasions, we are talking about services, be it issues related to Irish Water, as Deputy Michael Moynihan has just alluded to, or in my case, the last three of my Topical Issues have in one way or another been related to the HSE. Here I am again raising the issue of respite care in Cork, specifically for students of the new special school in Carrigaline. While it might not specifically be in my constituency, given the nature of the school, children travel from far and wide to attend it. The unfortunate reality for the parents and their children is that when the school was established it was not assigned a children's disability network, CDN team, so there is no access to therapies or any services unless they are accessed privately. A knock-on impact to that is that the parents have not been able to access respite care either for many of the children for that time and I note the school was established nearly a year ago. Many of the children have different disabilities and challenging behaviours. Unfortunately, the State has completely abandoned them for the past year since the school was established. The State has a responsibility but so too does the HSE. It gets a budget of €20-odd billion every year, yet we are here every week decrying and complaining about the lack of services.
I had a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, six months ago in the Vienna Woods Hotel, Glanmire, when she listened to more than 150 families talk about the lack of services in the disability sector. One point was repeated over and over. Many people shared their own personal stories. Nobody should have to go through that in such a fashion where there was a large crowd but these people feel they have to do it because of the issues I referenced earlier. I do not see how we are in a situation here where we have got massive investment in special schools in Cork - we have a second one in the pipeline. In addition, a site is being purchased in my own town of Glanmire. There is a lot of good happening in that sector but the schools are not being accompanied by services. For a new special school not to have the services accompany it is a travesty. In the case of Carrigaline, the school was taken under the patronage of Cork Education and Training Board, ETB, which does fantastic work and is probably the most efficient board of management body in County Cork, it is a travesty not to have the services accompany the school.
Subsequent to the fact that a CDN team was not designated to the special school, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, met me and Bernard O'Regan of the HSE and a commitment was given that CDN teams would be assigned to all special schools and reinstated. I would appreciate if the Minister of State had an update on the position in that regard. I know it is not specific to the issue of respite, but I would appreciate it if the Minister of State has any information on the matter. I would like to know whether we are at the point where we are advertising those posts. A validation process was undertaken and I understand the HSE has done that work but I would appreciate if the Minister of State has any information that would shed light on the matter.
To return to the issue of respite raised in the Topical Issue matter, these are people with challenging behaviours. The parents need a break and, from what I am hearing on the ground, they are doing well if they can get access to a couple of nights of respite in a year. I would appreciate any information the Minister of State has on the matter.
I am responding to this matter on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte. The Deputy highlighted a difficult case and it is important the issue of access to therapies and respite be resolved. The Government recognises how important respite can be for relieving pressure and enhancing the quality of life of families, particularly due to the impact the absence of respite service provision can have on other services being delivered. It is committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live their lives and provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose.
Regarding the specific issue of respite provision raised by the Deputy, the HSE is aware of the issues related to access for children in Carrigaline Community School. It is a new school established by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and the Department of Education. Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare has advised it is engaging with the CDNT with respect to scoping the needs of the children enrolled in the school. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has had recent discussions with Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare regarding access to respite and therapy services for children attending the school. There is limited access to children's respite services in Cork at present due to capacity and resource issues. Traditionally, children who attended special schools under the patronage of section 38 or section 39 organisations had access to respite in those agencies. Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare is implementing a more equitable regional respite service for children in Cork with the establishment of a regional respite committee. It has advised the Department that all children attending the relevant CDNTs will be able to make an application under the new process. This is a work in progress and information with regard to how to access the service will issue to stakeholders in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare has advised that respite services are limited with respect to capacity and that access will be based on the prioritised needs of the children and families.
I assure the Deputy the Government remains committed to ensuring increased capacity is built into respite services to support families, help preserve the family unit and support family stability. I do not have a response relating specifically to the posts he mentioned but I will ask the Minister of State to revert to him on the matter.
I thank the Minister of State. It was probably unfair of me to throw in the CDNT issue on top, but I thought to myself that I did not ask, I would not get so I said I would try. It is great that the HSE is aware of the issues relating to access for children. The Minister of State indicated this is a new school established by the NCSE and the Department of Education but that was the case a year ago and saying so now is kind of stating the obvious. I would love to know what the HSE is doing now. The Minister of State went on to point out that it is carrying out a scoping exercise but, again, stating as much after a year has passed is too slow. These kids have profound intellectual disabilities. Some of them are fed by tube and require round-the-clock attention, and one year on from the opening of their school, we are still scoping. Somebody needs to shout about this. It is just more ineptitude.
I understand that most of these issues relate to employment and recruitment. I was given a report last night by the Minister stating that 36% of all the posts in my community healthcare organisation, CHO, are unfilled. I asked the question, which I reiterate now, as to what we are doing about it. We have been talking since 2017 about one in three or four HSE posts not being filled, and five years on, one in three or four HSE posts remain unfilled. When the HSE talks about the lack of capacity in respite services, it is specifically down to recruitment. We are consistently told in the House, week in, week out, that money is not an issue, and I believe the Minister for Health when he says money is not an issue. If it is about recruitment, what is going to be done? Are we going to sit on our hands and hope it falls right for the HSE eventually? It has been clearly shown that will not happen. The executive has to start thinking outside the box, and whether that means relaxing visa rules and going outside the EU, or going on roadshows across the globe to find the staff we need, somebody needs to grab the bull by the horns and get on with it.
The Minister of State mentioned the regional respite committee and its establishment. It seems to be in its infancy, but I would welcome any details about it he might be able to give. He stated that due to capacity issues, children are being given respite on a prioritised-needs basis. How many children in this school does that relate to and how many respite hours have been given specifically for those children?
As the Deputy will appreciate, I do not have those figures to hand, although I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to follow up with responses to the specific questions he asked. A letter from Majella Daly, the head of the disability service in Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare, is attached to my prepared response but it does not offer much more information than I have outlined. The Deputy has raised quite a number of supplementary issues and we will revert to him with a response to them. I acknowledge there is an immediate issue in Carrigaline Community School that is causing great distress to the families affected. The HSE is committed to supporting the service users affected by this and Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare is implementing a more equitable regional respite service for children in Cork. It is recognised, as the Deputy noted, that recruitment, rather than finances, is the issue. I apologise that I cannot give a more comprehensive reply to the questions he has raised on behalf of the families he is representing, but I will ask the Minister of State to revert with specific responses.