Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Third Level Scholarship Schemes
Services for People with Disabilities
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. My motion relates to cuts in funding to Cregg House, Rosses Point, County Sligo. There was a large turnout in Sligo town last night to protest against the cuts, which amount to approximately €1.3 million. This is on top of a cut that the order of nuns, the Daughters of Wisdom, were subjected to last year. They look after approximately 214 residents with severe disabilities from the area. They have been looking after people in the area for up to 50 years. It is important that these cuts are reversed if possible to allow them to continue to provide the services. In addition, there are more than 200 people employed in the service. It is a vital employer in the region around Sligo.
I am thankful for the opportunity to respond to this important issue. I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health. I thank Senator Comiskey for raising the matter and I am pleased to take the opportunity on behalf of the Minister to outline the position in respect of Cregg House.
Wisdom Services is a voluntary body operated by the Daughters of Wisdom. It provides services for people with a disability in the north-western region. It supports more than 200 service users, with 111 on campus, 75 in the community and 20 day attendees. The disability budget was cut by 3.7% nationally in 2012. The HSE national service plan states that at least 2% of this should not impact on services and must be generated from other savings and increased efficiencies. Through its national consultative forum on disability, which includes representatives of organisations and agencies from the disability sector, the HSE is seeking to identify and agree a framework to address the savings required with minimal impact on front line services. The HSE has assured the Minister that it will endeavour to ensure that residential, day, respite and personal assistant services are protected where possible from reductions in front-line services. Some reduction in services will be unavoidable even with such efficiencies. However, this will be done in such a way as to minimise the impact on service users and their families as much as possible. As a first step, the HSE has introduced a general reduction of 3.7% from the budget of disability agencies, pending the outcome of its discussions with agencies at local level.
Wisdom Services has indicated to the HSE that it is experiencing financial difficulties and has estimated that it will have a significant budget deficit in 2012, even before cost containment measures take effect. The HSE has been working with Wisdom Services for some time to try to reduce the deficit which has been building up since 2010. Although Wisdom Services has a cost containment plan for 2012, and has had some success, it still faces significant challenges to address the deficit. Wisdom Services advised the HSE that it could not sign a service agreement for 2012 and may have to transition from the service if the HSE could not provide additional funding to address the deficit. The Minister for Health shares the HSE's disappointment that a service level agreement has not been agreed at this point for 2012. The reduction in the Wisdom Services budget for 2012 is consistent with other disability service providers in the region. Unfortunately, in the current financial climate, it is not possible for additional funding to be allocated to address the deficit in Cregg House. However, the Minister for Health is reassured that the HSE and Wisdom Services are working together to ensure that all service users will continue to receive the care and support they require, and that discussions are taking place on the most appropriate arrangements and funding for the various services, including the scope for savings. I understand that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, along with HSE and departmental officials, will meet Oireachtas representatives tomorrow evening on this matter. In this context, it is vital that all providers of disability services work creatively and co-operatively to ensure that the maximum level of services are maintained for service users within the funding resources available.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House again this evening and look forward to the meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, tomorrow evening. I am disappointed that the Minister is not in a position to give us the additional funding on this occasion but we will see what happens at tomorrow evening's meeting and we will press the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch.