Wednesday, 5 July 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Every time I table a Commencement matter I have the pleasure of her responding. It is great to have an opportunity to debate this major issue. I know the Minister of State has a great interest in it, given the correspondence she has sent to my office.
This is about trying to make sure we put in place a suitable transportation network for vulnerable adults trying to attend services in Bantry. For the past 12 months in particular, it has been a big issue for 11 vulnerable adults in the Bantry, Beara, Castletownbere and Ardgroom area. They need transportation in a very remote part of Ireland on the Beara Peninsula. They must go from places such as Ardgroom and Castletownbere to Bantry for services they truly love. They are very much part of the services being provided. The transportation network is a major issue. There has been a month-by-month saga about how the transportation network would be provided. The HSE has been involved, as has the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and private charities, trying to make sure a service is put in place so these vulnerable adults can get to their destination.
We had a scenario where Local Link, which is a wonderful service in many ways, became part of the solution. To be quite honest, it was never going to be a solution to the degree that the parents and vulnerable adults hoped it would. There are three destinations involved. These are the National Learning Network centre, CoAction and the Rehab care centre. The transport network needs to be tailored to the needs of these individuals and vulnerable adults. They need that little bit more support to make sure they can reach their full potential. The parents and the community are up in arms about where we are going. I realise the Minister of State got involved in recent months and provided funding so that it would be extended to the end of this month. The question now is what will happen next. The clock is ticking.
We have had a big debate in Irish society about how we will make sure we will put transportation links in place. There is a review of the school transportation scheme. It is not in the Minister of State's Department but it is a very important part of making sure everyone is part of the transportation network. The school transportation scheme will look at children. I believe there should be a transportation scheme put in place for vulnerable adults. I was contacted by a mother from Kilbrittain who had to give up work to take her vulnerable adult to services in Dunmanway. There were services for the person as a child but there was no transportation after the person reached the age of 18. This mother has taken a step back in her own life to support her family.
There is a policy issue with regard to how we can make sure vulnerable adults in all settings can be catered for when it comes to transportation networks. This is an important plank we need to start talking about. The issue is about a very remote part of west Cork going from Ardgroom all the way over to Beara and into Castletownbere and Bantry. This cohort of 11 adults need a little bit of extra care. Putting them on a Local Link service will not work. Their parents are absolutely distraught about what will happen. I realise this is a very tough situation but we need a roadmap and we do not have one at present. I hope the Minister of State will be able to enlighten us on what the national policy is and how we will progress this issue.
I thank Senator Lombard for raising this important matter today. The HSE provides specialist disability services, including day services and rehabilitative training, to people with disabilities who require such services. While day service funding does not include transport, some transport supports are provided by the HSE or funded agencies on a discretionary basis, and a variety of transport solutions are pursued in different community healthcare organisation, CHO, areas. To be quite honest, this discretionary basis is the nub of the issue. We are speaking about a remote part of Ireland, no different than if I were speaking about a remote part of east Galway, where we do not have a DART, Luas, metro or other such service. This is what we are speaking about. It is about trying to stop the sticking plaster approach. This is what Senator Lombard is asking me about today. To be fair, on the previous occasion this arose, I intervened. I do not think it is the role of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to solve this problem. It is incumbent on the Government and agencies out to come up with a solution.
There was hope there might be a way to work with Local Link, as it has services, but to be realistic this will not work for the 11 vulnerable young adults. There are various destinations involved. We are looking for pick-up points whereas under the public service obligation there are destination points. These are two very different conversations. We have to bottom out completely whether there is extra scope in the Local Link service whereby it can run an additional service. I would look to see whether Local Link has the flexibility to provide an additional run in the morning and in the evening to cater solely for these young adults, with no other passengers on board. To be very fair to the chief officer of the South/South West Hospital Group, Tess O'Donovan, she has given me and all of the families an extension of three months to try to come up with a permanent solution.The most important thing the Senator can bring back to families when he leaves today is that we have funding in place for three months in order that we might bottom out a solution. However, we need a unique solution that will not be discussed every three to six months on the floor of the Dáil or the Seanad. We need to find a permanent solution to address the needs of young people going to rehabilitation training, young people attending coaction and young people going to the National Learning Network. Young people at different levels of development need to be supported and at some stages there might be a transition period. For example, they might need a personal assistant, PA, at the start to help them to learn how to use public transport and then they might become accustomed to doing so independently. Some young people will always need PA support no matter what. We need to look at it in the round.
It is about what needs to be put in place. It is not about funding. A permanent solution to providing access to travel must be put in place. I would like to think that if we have an operator running a route, we could work with it for a morning and evening expansion of the service or that a bespoke service like the HSE initiatives in counties Kerry and Leitrim could be put in place. They are run under the open routes model. The HSE designed it. Perhaps the Senator's remote area is an example of where it needs to be piloted, operationalised and looked at as a permanent solution funded by the National Transport Authority, NTA, in conjunction with the Department of Health. The same bus route could double up to bring adults to day services, such as dementia clinics, later in the day or to bring them to hospital appointments. We need to look at, not only disability but the wider community context.
As the Minister of State correctly said, it is about trying to get a realistic approach on time so that we do not have to come back in three months. The discretionary funding from the HSE seems to be the avenue we need to start talking about. The HSE has a pot of money available. As the Minister of State indicated, it worked in a remote area in Kerry. That seems to be the scenario we need to start pressing. The Minister of State correctly said that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the local community are not the financial providers. It must come from the national Government. Will she give some clarity about the conversations that need to happen to get discretionary funding from the HSE in place so that this permanent service can be put in place? Will she outline where we need to go for that conversation so the HSE can come on line? I acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment that this has been sorted out for the next three months. That is important. We need a timeline for how the HSE could step in when that ends.
When I say it has been extended for three months, that means that all service users will have a service in September. That is the most important thing.
In the national context, the HSE has been working with the NTA on the issue of transport to day services through the open routes project. Open routes is based on the idea that transport to HSE services, such as day services, would be best served by accessible local public transport, Local Link, transporting people to day services and servicing the wider local community. It is a HSE open routes model as opposed to an open routes Local Link model. It is bespoke. At a cross-Government level, in the context of projects such as open routes and the transport working group which I convened and which reported earlier this year, the Government is working to find a more sustainable solution to the broader issue of transport for people with disabilities. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan and I are trying to work out what a good model would look like, what would work for all and what would meet future needs with the NTA, Local Link, the HSE and providers. I am trying to convene a meeting in that regard, and Senator Lombard is invited to attend.
I thank the Minister of State. I know she could have done with more than one minute but, unfortunately, that is the process. I thank her for her time, for coming to the House and for being available to Members. It is greatly appreciated. I also thank Senator Lombard for raising his matter.