Wednesday, 11 June 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Services for People with Disabilities.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this item on the Adjournment and the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, for being present. There is an urgent need for additional funding for service provision from the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, for the health boards and service providers for people with disabilities. It is important that the Minister realises that there is a crisis. There have been cuts, with the worst yet to come, in the provision of funds for services such as respite care, residential care and continuing education for people with intellectual disabilities.
The appalling cases about which many of us heard from the protesters at the gates of Leinster House yesterday and those we know in our communities are an indictment of the Government and its disregard for and neglect of people with a disability. The hardships endured by parents, carers and voluntary organisations when told that respite care can no longer be provided for their loved ones cannot be understood without witnessing it first-hand. Many elderly people worry about what the future holds for their loved ones when they pass on.
People with a disability, and the organisations which represent them, are the forgotten people of Ireland. The Taoiseach proclaimed that he was their champion, yet not too long ago he refused to talk to people outside the Mansion House. Yesterday he was nowhere to be seen when the protesters came to the gates of Leinster House. Many more would have been there if they had access to respite care.
The cutbacks in funding are a denial of basic services to people with great needs. An extra €35 million would address the needs of and eliminate the hardship endured by many. The allocation of €75 million for the new Government aircraft would adequately provide for people with special needs, yet many are struggling to provide respite care. Many have received letters which state schools can no longer provide further and continuing education for people with special needs over 18 years of age. I ask the Government to recall these letters and allay the fears of the many parents concerned. Is it not ironic that only a fortnight ago, the Minister for Education and Children, Deputy Noel Dempsey, was in the House telling us about access to education for the disadvantaged, yet now another arm of government is sending out letters stating people with disabilities over 18 years of age no longer have a future in education? This cannot be reconciled.
The people protesting outside the gates of Leinster House were fuming with anger with regard to this issue. There was no trace of any Government representative – Minister or Minister of State, Deputy or Senator – to tell them the facts. What is required is a mere €35 million to alleviate hardship. A person who has declared himself the champion of the disabled has questions to answer. There is also a fear that the Taoiseach will portray himself as the European champion of the disabled at the opening of the Special Olympics. If this mockery takes place, the anger unleashed yesterday is only a symptom of what is to follow. I hope the Minister of State will convey to the Taoiseach, if he is not already aware, that if the crisis continues, those whose loved ones are denied basic rights to respite care and continuing education will vent their anger in many ways after the Special Olympics.
There are now 600 people on waiting lists with no access to a service. There are a further 1,500 on waiting lists who must be treated as ordinary citizens and given their entitlements and rights. There is also anger about the Government's failure to bring forward a rights-based disability Bill, the lack of which is a major concern. While it is kept in abeyance, that anger will fester. Why does the Government have to torture not only carers and parents but also these unfortunate people who also have rights? If it continues to deny them their rights, we can no longer say we are a caring society and that we treat all our people equally.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and will convey to the Taoiseach the points he raised.
I wish to record some facts. Since 1997 my Department has allocated significant levels of funding across the disability sector, which has resulted in significant and unprecedented developments in the quality and quantity of health related services being provided for people with disabilities.
Some are shouting and screaming about the issues the Senator outlined. With other political parties, which are politically motivating some of the issues being raised, his party had an opportunity to deliver while in government. I challenge anybody to check the record of what was put into the disability sector from 1997 onwards or take the two year period 1997-98—
—and make a fair comparison with what was allocated in the previous two years and the significant and unprecedented developments will be clearly apparent.
Massive additional funding of €27 million has been allocated to services for persons with disabilities and those with autism in 2003 to meet the full year costs of 2002 developments and further enhance services in the sector. This funding is in addition to the very significant revenue investment, amounting to €288 million, made in the services in recent years and which is built into the ongoing budget base.
Approximately €100 million in additional ongoing revenue has been provided with regard to the maintenance and development of services for people with physical and sensory disabilities. Such services include residential, respite, home support services, which include personal assistance, therapy and day care services.
A significant proportion of this funding, more than €20 million, has been provided specifically for home support services. A further €81 million has been provided in once-off grants for capital projects and issues such as the provision of technical aids and appliances. Between 1997 and 2002 an extra €188 million revenue and €139 million capital funding has been provided, making a total additional investment of €327 million for the maintenance and development of services for persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism. Included in this funding is more than €27 million allocated to meet identified needs in existing services.
The additional funding provided by this and the previous Government was used to put in place a large range of additional services, including more than 900 new residential places. These residential places were not available in the years when other political parties had an opportunity to put them in place. Therefore, let us call a spade a spade and be fair to one another. Who provided these places when they had an opportunity? The Fianna Fáil led Administration provided 900 additional residential—
—380 new respite and around 2,000 new day places for people with an intellectual disability and those with autism.
In the current year further additional funding of €13 million has been allocated to services for persons with an intellectual disability or autism to meet the full year cost of 2002 developments and further enhance health related support services. This brings total extra investment in these services to €340 million over seven years, of which over €200 million has been built into the ongoing budget base.
In particular, around €15 million has been invested in health related support services for children with autism or an intellectual disability nationally between 1998 and 2002. This includes diagnostic and assessment services, early intervention, which we recognise is extremely important, home support and outreach support to children of schoolgoing age.
Despite this significant investment, I acknowledge that demographic factors are contributing to growing waiting lists for residential services, in particular, even though the numbers in receipt of services, including full-time residential services, continue to increase. The increased birth rate in the 1960s and 1970s has resulted in large numbers of adults in their late 20s and early 30s requiring full-time residential services. In addition, people with an intellectual disability are living longer adding to the need for services compared to previous generations. This has also been the experience internationally in service provision for this cohort group.
I wish to respond to the Senator's point about nobody being prepared to meet a group of people and tell them the facts. I invite the Senator to bring any group to meet me and I would be happy to hear their comments, take whatever action I can on foot of them and clearly outline the facts to them.
I am trying to be genuinely helpful in a meaningful way to try to assist people who have concerns. I acknowledge there are gaps in the services. I also acknowledge the benefits of rights based legislation for the disability sector.
I also want to deal with the issue of loved ones and those other phrases the Senator used. I have not yet come across a person who has a loved one with a disability who has not been provided with the level of care required, as the Senator put it, particularly when the parent has passed on. Normally the services like to have an input in the provision of some level of care for the person who requires it in order that should anything happen to the person providing the 24 hour care, they would have a knowledge of the individual requiring care and be able to intervene and provide the level of services required. It is regrettable that people are creating concern among parents, some of whom are elderly and have genuine concerns that a service will not be in place for their children. However, I have not come across a case where a service has not been put in place.
When I meet such a group, they express their concerns and there is proper interaction. When I ask them if they want their child to go into residential care, I do not believe the Senator will disagree with me when I say a parent will normally say, "I have looked after my child for the past 20 to 30 years and intend to look after him or her until I die, but it is when I die I would like to have a service in place." A service is usually put in place. Those scaremongering parents by saying there may be no service in place are most unfair.
I am speaking from the experience of having been involved in the provision and delivery of health services as a member of the largest health board in the country and the only health authority, initially the EHB and latterly the ERHA and the NAHB. I have seen a tremendous change in the quality, quantity and value of the level of care we provide for people in the intellectual disability sector. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to highlight this.
The overall economic position in 2003 has implications for all aspect of public investment, as reflected in the Estimates and budget adopted by the Government for 2003. Within this overall framework some two thirds of the additional funding available for non-capital investment in services has been allocated to the health service. This funding is being applied largely to maintaining existing levels of service across all service programmes, including services for people with disabilities. While it is not possible to continue the level of investment in these services achieved in recent years, my Department will work closely with all the structures, whether they be health boards or other structures, that will be in place or any other service providers in relation to service provision for 2003.
I know that while my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Martin, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley and I are in the Department of Health and Children we will do everything possible to improve, enhance and develop service provision for the intellectual disability sector.
I would be happy to respond but time does not permit me to do so now. I have great knowledge of this issue and would be happy to discuss it with the Senator at any time.