Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Disability Services Provision
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir as an gceist. Toisc go bhfuil an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Lynch, as láthair inniu, tabharfaidh mise an freagra a bhaineann leis an ábhar fíor-thábhachtach seo.
The Government is committed to providing and developing services for children with special needs and to improving access by these children to therapy services, in so far as possible, within available resources. As the Senator will be aware, health-related therapy supports and interventions for such children can be accessed through both the HSE's primary care services and its disability services depending on the level of need. Significant additional resources have been invested in recent years in the State's primary care and disability services with a view to enhancing therapy service provision. For example, in 2013, additional funding of €20 million was allocated to strengthen primary care services and to support the recruitment of prioritised front-line posts. The HSE also has recognised that its early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities must be standardised. To this end, a major reconfiguration of therapy resources for children with disabilities aged up to 18 years is currently under way. This involves pooling the resources of all service providers in defined geographical areas. The HSE's national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people up to 18 years of age aims to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services regardless of where they live, what school the child attends or the nature of the individual child's difficulties. Implementation of this programme is taking place on phased basis in consultation with stakeholders, including service users and their families. It is a key priority for the executive's social care directorate. An additional €4 million was allocated in 2014 to assist in implementing the programme, equating to approximately 80 additional therapy posts. Further investment of €4 million, equating to €6 million in a full year, has been provided this year to support its ongoing implementation. Full implementation of the programme is expected before the end of 2016.
Reconfiguration of disability services in line with this programme is already under way in Cavan-Monaghan. I understand that four additional therapy posts have been allocated to the region to date to assist in this process, comprising two speech and language therapy posts, an occupational therapy post and a social worker post. To date, two early intervention teams are being operated by Enable Ireland in line with the programme's policy and two school-age teams in the area are due to be reconfigured by the end of this year. It should be remembered that moving to this new service model is complex and requires considerable preparatory work on the part of the multi-agency local implementation group, in collaboration with all key stakeholders, to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. Clear integrated policies, procedures and protocols must be developed, together with a clear governance structure for the newly-formed multi-agency and multidisciplinary teams. While the HSE is facing challenges in some areas in meeting the statutory timeframes that apply to the assessment of need process under the Disability Act in light of the number and complexity of current cases, I understand there are no particular problems at present in Cavan-Monaghan and that assessments are being carried out in a timely fashion. Research conducted by the National Disability Authority into the statutory assessment of need, AON, process has found that where services are reorganised on an integrated basis, such as under the model advocated by the progressing disability services programme, the statutory assessment process works more smoothly.
I assure the Senator that improving access to therapy services for children in primary care and in disability services is a particular priority for the Government. In this context, further funding of €8 million is being provided in 2016 to expand the provision of speech and language therapy through primary care services and to support the re-organisation and expansion of speech and language and other therapies under the progressing disability services programme.