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 Header Item Special Educational Needs Service Provision (Continued)
 Header Item Bord na Móna

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 987 No. 2

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Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I thank Deputies O'Loughlin and O'Rourke for raising this important issue today. The Disability Act provides for an assessment of need for people with disabilities. Any child born on or after 1 June 2002 who is suspected of having a disability is eligible to apply for an assessment of need that will detail his or her health needs arising from the disability. Since its commencement in 2007, there have been significant year on year increases in the number of children applying both for assessment of need and disability services generally. Unfortunately, these increases have led to the extended waiting periods currently being experienced. Both the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, on whose behalf I am speaking today, and the HSE recognise that assessments of need and early intervention services are essential in supporting children with disabilities and their families. I am aware that the HSE has undertaken a number of initiatives to address the excessive waiting times. To improve the assessment of need process and ensure that children receive an intervention as soon as is possible, the HSE has developed a new standard operating procedure for the assessment of need process. The purpose of this is to ensure children with disabilities and their families access appropriate assessment and intervention as quickly as possible. In addition, it will ensure that the approach to assessment of need is consistent across all HSE community healthcare organisation, CHO, areas.

It is intended that the procedure will be implemented nationally from the fourth quarter of 2019. Both the HSE and the National Disability Authority have identified that an increase in therapy resources is required to meet current unmet need and projected future needs in children's disability services nationally. Budget 2019 provided funding for an additional 100 therapy posts to help to reduce the long waiting times for assessment of need and enable children with disabilities to access timely assessment and intervention. Some of these posts are in place and many others are at varying stages of the recruitment process. The HSE expects to have all new posts in place by the end of this year. In addition, HSE disability services is currently engaged in a major reconfiguration of its existing therapy resources for children with disabilities into multidisciplinary geographically based teams, as part of its national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people under 18 years of age. The key objective of this programme is to bring about equity of access to disability services and consistency of service delivery, with a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services, regardless of where they live, what school they go to or the nature of their difficulties. Evidence to date from areas where this has been rolled out shows that implementation of this programme will also have a positive impact on waiting lists both for assessments of need and therapy provision. While not addressing all needs, I am confident that these initiatives will have a significant positive impact in reducing waiting times for assessment of need over the course of the next year. I hope this clarifies matters for the Deputies.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The Minister talks about equity of access, consistency of service delivery and a clear pathway for children with disabilities and their families to services regardless of where they live. That is simply not happening anywhere. It is certainly not happening in County Kildare. The reality is that children, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on vital treatments, services and supports which are crucial to improving their quality of life. As of April this year, there were 591 children awaiting speech and language services in County Kildare. Children wait for months for appointments, meaning that they are losing precious months or years in language development. Being able to communicate and develop one's communication skills to the best of one's ability is a basic human right. It is shocking to see the figures stacking up and increasing. Some 910 children are waiting for occupational therapy, of whom 80% have been waiting for more than 30 months. It is simply not good enough and it has to change.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I am sorry to cut the Deputy short on such an important issue but I have to keep to the times allotted.

Deputy Frank O'Rourke: Information on Frank O'Rourke Zoom on Frank O'Rourke I thank the Minister of State for his statement. It would be great if it was true. Unfortunately, none of what he is saying reflects reality. In recent years, we have not seen any improvement in waiting times in this area. That is fact. I am not here to play politics but to reflect the real issues we are encountering with the most vulnerable in society. We have to get real and deliver at the coalface for these children, who are the most vulnerable in society. They need this help to reach and maximise their true potential. We must reduce the burden for parents, guardians and families who have to fight 24-7 for their basic right. That is fundamentally wrong. We have to acknowledge that and get better at making things happen for them. It takes up to two years to have an assessment of need done and a further two years for services or therapies to be delivered, which is wrong. That is the reality, notwithstanding the contents of the Minister of State's statement. We have to look at what is happening on the ground, put measures in place to address the issue and direct the funding to where it needs to go to help the most vulnerable in society. This is critical because a group of people in society who are most in need is not reaching its true potential, which is unfair.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I thank the Deputies and assure them that their frustration and concern for children is shared on this side of the House. We understand the impact that this continues to have on children who want to access an education and be treated as equal citizens. As a parent, former teacher and former member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills under the current Chair, Deputy O'Loughlin, I understand well the impact that these delays are having on people's right to equal access. That is why, in budget 2019, the Government provided funding for 100 new therapy posts across all specialties, not just speech and language therapy but also occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These posts are being assigned on the basis of need. The recruitment of 100 additional therapists is being completed as we speak. I regret it will take some time for that to have an impact on the system. The HSE has adopted a standard operating procedure which should result in a more efficient and equitable allocation of resources such that wherever a child lives, whether Kildare, Cork or Kerry, he or she will not experience a postcode lottery. I am confident that the new standard operating procedure will address that issue but time is needed to see the impact of these steps. We will do more in the coming year for children with special needs. I thank the Deputies for their continued support in this area. The continued focus on it is very welcome for the sake of all children with special needs.

Bord na Móna

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The third issue in the name of Deputies Naughten and Stanley is very close to my own heart. I welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Local Deputies, including Deputies Eugene Murphy and Stanley, met representatives of the Bord na Móna group of unions yesterday. They informed us that the company is currently borrowing money from day to day to pay its staff. The public service obligation finishes for Lough Ree power station on 9 December and for West Offaly power station on 31 December. The situation is completely unsustainable. We are facing an economic catastrophe across the middle of Ireland in just 68 days, with the loss of 2,000 direct jobs and another 2,000 jobs that are dependent on the wage packets of these employees. We need the Minister to take three urgent and immediate steps. The Government must make a clear and unambiguous statement reiterating its support for the co-firing of the two plants with both peat and biomass as per the unanimous request to the Minister made by all Deputies for the area in Tullamore last July. The Minister must immediately call in the chief executives of Bord na Móna and the ESB to get absolute clarity on the intention to submit a new planning application for West Offaly power station and to deal with the 3 million tonnes of milled peat that are currently on the bogs and have the potential to cause serious environmental harm if not removed from the bogs. The Government must immediately release funds from the climate action fund to start the rehabilitation of the decommissioned bogs across the midlands. I have written to the Minister directly on foot of correspondence I have received from the Taoiseach, who is supportive of the release of funding from the climate action fund to start the rehabilitation and allow for immediate employment of staff in Bord na Móna across the midlands.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I thank Deputy Naughten. He is always spot on with his speaking time, which I appreciate.

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