Seanad debates

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Commencement Matters

Respite Care Services Provision

2:30 pm

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for selecting this matter and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, for coming to the House to discuss it. There is a problem with the provision of respite care for adults with mental disabilities in the Ballina area of County Mayo. The service is provided through a service level agreement between the HSE and Western Care Mayo.

I will preface my remarks by pointing out that where the service has been available it has been good and people were happy with it. However, a problem arose last March. There was a safeguarding emergency which meant that current service users could not avail of the service because it had to be provided to a particular person on account of the safeguarding emergency that arose. Unfortunately, the service does not appear to have resumed or returned to normal.

There also appears to be a problem with information feeding back to the families of the dependent adults on when a normal service will resume. Between 40 and 43 adults in the Ballina area received the service in 2016, so it is important for the families. These adults are often in the care of their parents and the respite care provides a break for the dependent adults and their families. The fact that the service has been disrupted is also a cause of concern because many of these dependent adults have anxiety problems or suffer from autism. They need regularity of service and to avoid disruption.

Aside from the delay and disruption in the service for the people who had been receiving it, the other aspect to this is the number of dependent adults who have been waiting for this service, which I have been unable to ascertain. One family described their situation to me. When their child reached 18 years, the age of majority, they were sent to adult services, but they have been on a waiting list for four years and have not received respite care for that period. I am also aware of another case, although I cannot say if the waiting period is as long as four years.

I have put questions to the HSE management and to Western Care Mayo but I received no satisfactory answers, which is why I asked that the Minister come to the House today.Quite a number of the families are anxious, as are the adults involved. The least we could do is to provide a service. The Minister of State would have to agree that four years is an inordinate length of time for anybody to have to wait for this very important service. The Minister of State might be able to shed some light on a number of the questions I have raised and give clarity as to how soon the service might resume.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I thank Senator Michelle Mulherin for raising this very important issue in respect of respite services. I know that she is a very strong campaigner for people with disabilities, particularly those in the Mayo area. It is a very important issue. I accept many of the points the Senator has raised and I will deal with them later on in my response. It is also important, however, that we know what is going on in respect of the provision of respite care both locally and nationally. The Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the need for respite services to be developed further. The Government is committed to safeguarding vulnerable people in the care of the health service by providing services and supports for people with disabilities which will empower them to live independent lives in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives.

The provision of respite services has come under additional pressure in recent years. I accept that point. Particularly since I took over 11 months ago, we have focused any available development funding primarily on the provision of day places for pupils graduating from school or rehabilitative training programmes. This has led to increased demand for respite for those young adults who would have previously accessed respite as children. In my first 12 months we put extra money into providing a day service for those 18 years old and older. That issue has now been resolved and it is now time to move on to the other issues which the Senator raised, such as that of respite care.

The HSE social care operational plan for 2017 aims to provide 182,000 overnight stays in centre-based respite services in addition to the 41,000 day respite sessions. Western Care has a service agreement with the Health Service Executive under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, on whose behalf it provides supports and services to people with intellectual disabilities in County Mayo. This includes funding for respite services for those with an intellectual disability. During 2016, Western Care provided 5,412 bed nights of respite to children and adults in Mayo. The total provided to adults was 4,278 bed nights of respite services located in Belmullet, Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe and Castlebar. In addition, some supports were provided to both children and adults to allow them to remain in their own homes. A total of 162 children and adults availed of this service during 2016 with the level of service each person used varying.

The number of adults currently waiting for respite services in Mayo as per the national database categories is 127. The categories included crisis and planned respite, overnight respite at home, regular part-time care every weekend, regular part-time care on alternate weekends and occasional respite with a host family. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide the Senator with the length of time these individuals have been on the waiting list in the timeframe given, but I will ask the HSE to write to the Senator directly with those figures. The Senator mentioned four years. I am absolutely shocked that any family of a person with a disability would not have received respite in four years. That is not acceptable. I will get the HSE to get back to the Senator.

In respect of the Ballina area, Western Care is funded by the HSE to provide 931 bed nights of adult respite per annum throughout 2017. In 2016, this level of service was provided to approximately 40 people. However, in March 2017, respite was cancelled for all service-users in the Ballina area as the facility had to be used to provide emergency residential placement, which caused the blockage there. As a result, Western Care is currently examining all possible options available, including reconfiguration of services, in order to restore some level of respite care in this area. Western Care is currently in discussions with the HSE to examine options with regard to solving this issue. The HSE remains committed to ensuring that respite services resume as quickly as possible. I also wish to reassure the Senator that we have included a strong focus on respite care services in the social care plan for 2017 to 2018 in our negotiations over coming weeks.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State provided a comprehensive response. I ask Senator Mulherin to be brief.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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With the permission of the Minister of State, I will bring to his attention the name of the individual who has been waiting for respite care for four years and provide details of the other cases of which I am aware. There is clearly an issue with resources in Western Care. The disruption to its service occurred in March. It is now July and I ask the Minister to ensure that those who have experienced disruption and those on the waiting list for respite care are provided with information because they do not know when they will receive care. I would like to provide further clarity to the individuals in question. I can also provide the Minister of State with details of cases which could shed light on what is happening in the service and could be instrumental in delivering the service.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I will give priority to the Ballina area and the blockage in the service there. As the Senator indicated, a safeguarding issue in an emergency case had a negative impact on respite services. I acknowledge the point the Senator made on the family clinic. I have been speaking to those in the services for the past 11 months in an effort to create a closer relationship with families and parents. It is unacceptable if there is a disconnect or a lack of information.

I will follow up on the individual cases the Senator raises. I am amazed to learn that someone has not been provided with respite care for four years. The Government restored the carer's grant of €1,700 per family per annum, which is not means tested. In recent months, a number of families informed me that they used this money to pay for respite services. Approximately 101,000 families are in receipt of this payment. However, a couple of thousand of other families who are eligible for the grant are not collecting it.

I fully accept the Senator's sincerity on this matter and that her comments are correct. Yesterday, I had a one-to-one meeting with the Taoiseach to discuss disability policy for the next 12 months. In fairness to him, the Taoiseach also raised the issue of respite services and he is very conscious of the need to do something about this issue. We must also fix local problems, address the lack of communications and ensure a more inclusive approach is taken to families. I will convey the Senator's concerns to the Minister and HSE.