Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Disability Services

9:30 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Carrigy for raising this important issue. St. Christopher's Services is a disability services provider founded in 1964 by parents and friends of disabled people in Longford. It is an independent legal entity governed by a board of directors. The organisation is funded by the HSE's Midlands Louth Meath community healthcare organisation, CHO, under section 39 of the Health Act, with minor funding from other sources. St. Christopher's Services currently provides day, residential and respite services in a number of locations across Longford. Services are provided on the basis of individualised need and are agreed in partnership with the HSE, service users, families and other voluntary providers to enable service users to reach their full potential. The organisation is an important provider of services, and the HSE is consistently assured of the quality of the services provided by the organisation.

Notwithstanding recent year-on-year increases in funding, it is acknowledged that the HSE, and the disability service providers it funds, are experiencing financial pressures. Demographic changes, increased complexity in service user need, regulatory compliance and recruitment challenges have all served to increase demand on available resources. With significant assistance from the HSE and the implementation of a cost-management programme, St. Christopher's Services had achieved a break-even financial position over recent years, with a small deficit in 2022.However the HSE did not have advance warning of the scale of the financial difficulties which emerged at St. Christopher's in late 2023. This included a number of Revenue notices of attachment served on the HSE in relation to St. Christopher's. The HSE has assisted St. Christopher's to deal with these notices of attachment through a cash acceleration process. The cumulative cash advances as of 15 March 2024 are in the region of €3.5 million. This is a significant commitment of public funds by the HSE and as a result the CHO finance team undertook a due diligence process with the organisation with a draft report issued to the management of St. Christopher's. A response to this report is awaited. The HSE separately comissioned EY to review the due diligence process and the last number of years income and expenditure at St. Christopher's. The review identified weaknesses in internal financial controls and information deficits, with the gap between operational costs and available income due almost exclusively to the organisation's decision to increase its pay costs beyond available funding. HSE cash advancements have enabled the service to cover weekly and monthly payroll, to cover commitments to Revenue and to pay into pension schemes for employees. In addition, funding has been advanced to cover trade creditors and ensure that supply chain for service provision is maintained. On the basis of current knowledge, the anticipated cash deficit 2024 is expected to be €2.4 million. This will result in a cumulative deficit of €4.4 million at the end of 2024, with a funding level of approximately €14 million being provided by the HSE this year.

As to next steps, I know that, most importantly, the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte want to take this opportunity to reassure the many people who use these services and their families that their services will be protected and maintained. The HSE chief officer of CHO 8 is working intensively with the organisation to develop a pathway to financial stability. This includes exploring options for additional support for the board to enhance governance and oversight processes and mechanisms for further audits of financial systems and governance. The chief officer remains in close contact with senior members of the St. Christopher’s board in order to provide support and maintain communication channels during this challenging period.

The chief officer will be meeting with the board again in the coming days to clearly articulate the next steps required and to request defined cash flow information for the next six to eight weeks, to ensure that the HSE can respond to any changing needs accordingly. This proactive financial and practical support from the HSE will enable St. Christopher’s to continue its valuable service provision in the immediate term while a strategy is developed to address core sustainability issues. It is a key objective of the Government to ensure that appropriate funding is available to give stability to service providers for delivery of quality services for people with disabilities.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.