Tuesday, 3 April 2007
Special Educational Needs.
Why is there a waiting list of 18 months for children to access speech therapy in County Carlow? As there are no private speech therapists in County Carlow, affected parents do not have the option of taking the private route. What is the waiting list time for occupational therapy for children?
I was forced to raise this matter on the Adjournment because I could not get a straightforward answer from the Health Service Executive. I would also be lucky to receive the reply after the general election. I must compliment the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Recently I had to send a query in an awkward case to the Department. Not only did I receive a favourable reply, it came in four days. The HSE could learn much from the Department in respect of questions from public representatives. The Department's replies are prompt and positive. The HSE must replicate such a system of excellent delivery.
I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank Senator Browne for raising this matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the House the issues in regard to the provision of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy services in the Carlow area.
Demand for speech and language therapy and occupational therapy in the health services is very significant, hence the substantial investment which has been provided in them during the past number of years. The number of speech and language therapists employed in the public health service has increased from 281 whole-time equivalents in 1997 to 655 whole-time equivalents at the end December 2006, representing an increase of 133% in that nine year period while the number of occupational therapists has increased from 288 whole-time equivalents in 1997 to 928 whole-time equivalents at end December 2006, representing an increase of more than 220%. Those percentage increases are staggering. The Government has also committed to further investment in disability services — via the multi-annual investment plan — and in primary care services. These services will see further increases in speech and language therapy and occupational therapy resources.
A particular priority for the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science in recent years has been the expansion of the supply of therapy graduates, including speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. Additional courses in speech and language therapy and occupational therapy were established in three universities. University College Cork, the National University of Ireland, Galway, and the University of Limerick, each established courses in both speech and language therapy and occupational therapy with an initial intake of 25 places on each of the six courses. The University of Limerick courses are at masters level and the first cohorts graduated in 2005. The first cohort from the bachelor degree programmes in both disciplines in University College Cork and the National University of Ireland, Galway, will graduate this year. This investment represents an increase in training capacity of 300% in speech and language therapy and 240% in occupational therapy. The latest information available to the Department of Health and Children indicates that the total number of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy training places now stands at 103 and 120, respectively.
The provision of speech and language therapy and occupational therapy services is a matter for the HSE. In regard to speech and language therapy services, the HSE has advised that there are 99 children awaiting screening or assessment in the Carlow area. On average, children wait three to six months for a first appointment. Some 299 children who have been assessed are waiting for speech and language therapy. The number of referrals to Carlow has increased significantly in the past two years and, on average, there would be up to 30 new referrals each month. There are currently four full-time speech and language therapy posts in Carlow but, in addition to children, these therapists deal with special schools, day centres and adults. The HSE has further advised that it is not aware of any private speech and language therapists working in the Carlow area.
In regard to the provision of occupational therapy in the Carlow area, the HSE has advised that 89 children are awaiting assessment in the Carlow area. The children are prioritised based on their clinical need, those deemed the highest priority are dealt with at the earliest opportunity, usually within a matter of days to weeks. The number of referrals to Carlow has increased significantly due to the increase in population and the demand for occupational therapy service.
Currently there are three full-time paediatric occupational therapists in the Carlow-Kilkenny area. The HSE has advised that it is not aware of any private occupational therapists working in the Carlow area.
I hope this reply has provided the Senator with some information on these services.