Tuesday, 26 September 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Senator for his question. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, has asked me to thank him for raising this important issue for discussion in the House. She had a meeting this morning with one of the disability providers and she did not want to have to change it so I am taking this matter on her behalf. I also compliment the Senator, as Cathaoirleach of the Oireachtas committee, on its great work in respect of autism. It was really important having that specific committee. The Joint Committee on Health does phenomenal work but it has so much to cover. We have had the mental health sub-committee and the Joint Committee on Autism. Both did phenomenal work and I compliment the Senator on that. I was delighted to appear before the committee and I learned a lot that day about children who have complex care needs and who may have mental health issues as well as autism issues.
The Minister of State wishes to be completely clear that the development of any child with a disability to reach his or her full potential is of the utmost importance. Assessments and therapy interventions are vital pieces in the supports that can assist on delivering that potential. The principle and importance of early intervention are recognised by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. Additionally, the key focus of the HSE has been to develop a strategy for services that is, above all, child and family centred and reflective of best national and international practice.
With specific reference to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, the NTPF is tasked primarily with reducing waiting times for inpatient or day-case treatment and does not have the statutory remit to arrange or fund any non-hospital services, including assessments of need for children with disabilities. However, the Minister of State recognises the financial challenges for many families in the context of the delays for families seeking to access assessments and therapies for their children. It is for this reason that she allocated over €11.5 million in funding in budget 2023 for the outsourcing of assessments.The ability of the HSE to outsource assessments can greatly assist the enhancement of the CDNTs by way of ensuring they have time and capacity to conduct therapy interventions rather than solely concentrating on assessments. In addition, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, awaits details on the work of the regional assessment hubs recently established across the country. The hubs are designed to provide a dedicated assessment function and seek to preserve the CDNT so each can continue to delivery therapy services. As a final point, the HSE has developed a tender process for the delivery of assessment of need from private providers. This process has recently been completed and the Minister of State looks forward to its outcome so the next stages of dealing with the waiting times can be progressed.
The Minister of State is fully committed to pursuing every avenue in order to improve access and reduce waiting times for children and families. She is eager to see the benefits arising from the above initiatives. A core benefit is expected to be that public services will be available in a timely manner. Like the Senator, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I are greatly concerned about the waiting lists for children with autism and I hope the HSE, having developed a tender process for the delivery of assessment of need from private providers, will help target that waiting list. When one is a parent of a child and does not have the funds to go private one will possibly be waiting a long time to get the support requested and it can be very difficult. I welcome this and look forward to hearing more from the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, on it.