Thursday, 22 March 2018
Autism Support Services
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Thank you for allowing me to raise the matter. I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for being here.
I wish to raise the case of Mr. Gary Walton. He is a 33 year adult who requires support services. I seek an update on what services are available to him and his family. He was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome along with an anxiety disorder.
The bottom line is that this is a very traumatic and tragic case. This young man was remanded in custody following an incident with his mother and he was released from prison yesterday. I am sure that everyone will agree that putting somebody in custody is not the answer to an issue for someone who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome or a disability. I have spoken to his mother. She has emailed many of us about her son and she has also spoken on local radio. She is of the view that he needs to be placed in short-term residential care and receive treatment for a period. I am sure we can all agree that this is a very serious issue. The assault on his mother was brought before the courts. His mother, Phyl, has very much advocated, on behalf of her son, for HSE services to be made available, in terms of whatever facilities and joined-up thinking we can bring to this case. I have spoken to and listened to Phyl, and read the newspaper accounts of the court case and her appeal. It is worth noting that Professor Michael Fitzgerald made the diagnosis. The solution is to offer support and put in place joined-up thinking. I know that the Minister of State will reply but I hope that we can collectively, including the HSE and Gary's family, come together and engage in a conversation so that appropriate services are put in place.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise the matter and I thank the Minister of State for being here this morning.
On behalf of my ministerial colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this important issue.
I am informed by the HSE Cork Kerry community healthcare that it is aware of the case and that there has been ongoing engagement with the individual and his family since 2016. This Government's ongoing priority is to safeguard the vulnerable people who are in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities that will empower them to live independent lives. As part of the HSE's ongoing service provision, this year it will provide over 8,300 residential places to families in need across the country. Our policy is for people with disabilities to be supported to achieve their full potential so that, where possible, they can live ordinary lives in ordinary places, doing ordinary things. The overarching principle governing the planning and delivery of health services and supports for adults and children with disabilities, including autism, is that they should be integrated as much as possible with services and supports for the rest of the population.
At the request of the Minister for Health, the HSE has conducted a review of services to identify the existing models of best practice. The review has been completed and is being reviewed by the Department. In addition, the Department has completed an epidemiological research study into the prevalence and future projections for the autism spectrum disorder. Both of these reports are now being considered by the Department and the Minister.
While the Senator will appreciate that I am unable to comment on an individual case, I am aware that this case has been reported by the media recently. In the Cork Kerry disability services, Aspect is the service provider for day services for someone with a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Residential placements for adults with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, are considered following detailed clinical assessments by the HSE services. On the other hand, access to places for those with the most complex needs are allocated on a priority basis and appropriate availability of service.I am informed by the HSE that the individual and family have been advised that if support is required for the mental health service, they should contact their GP who can make a referral. I also point out to Senator Buttimer that a caseworker was assigned by Aspect to this individual and in spite of numerous communications by the key worker to both his mother and this young person, the individual only attended one meeting in 2017.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. From my observation the family would question the ongoing engagement and they would have been of the view that there was no engagement. The bottom line is there should be engagement between the HSE and the family. It would be appropriate for the HSE and the family to get together. The correct modus operandi is to have ongoing engagement and meaningful interaction. This is a young man who needs help and support and there needs to be joined-up thinking on how to facilitate that.
I appreciate the Minister of State's response but I hope that through the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Finian McGrath, the HSE could sit down with the family to work out a programme and a placement for this young man.
I will comment on Senator Buttimer's request for joined-up thinking. All of us who are in public life are very familiar with people who are caught up in a system where the system does not seem to respond quickly enough for them thereby causing distress for the individual and the family. I will bring the Senator's message to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath.
Let me assure the House that everything is being done. The Government's ongoing priority is to safeguard vulnerable people in care. I am informed by the HSE that it has been engaged with the person concerned and the family and will continue to do so.
Let me emphasise that in 2018, funding of €1.772 billion has been provided for health and personal social care services for a complex and wide range of services and supports for people with disabilities. An additional €91.9 million was made available last year. This year, through the HSE, we will provide more than 8,300 residential care beds, as well as emergency support beds for 385 people. We will provide more than 1,800 respite nights and 42,500 day respite sessions to families in need of respite across the country.
I understand Senator Buttimer's concerns and his compassion about this issue. I certainly share some of those concerns, particularly when the family seems to be trapped in a situation where they see that they have difficulties in gaining proper access to services. Let me repeat that I will bring Senator Buttimer's concerns to the attention of Deputy Finian McGrath.