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 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2020: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Disability Services: Motion [Private Members]

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 998 No. 5

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Estimates for Public Services 2020: Message from Select Committee

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly The Select Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration has completed its consideration of the following Estimates for Public Services for the service of the year ending on 31 December 2020: Vote 40 - Children and Youth Affairs (Revised).

Disability Services: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Pauline Tully: Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:
acknowledges that:
— families, carers and service providers have been stretched to incredible lengths, many to breaking point throughout the course of this pandemic;

— the personal toll and long-term impact of the withdrawal of care and supports for people with disabilities, their families and their carers is deeply worrying;

— due to Covid-19, disability services that rely on voluntary fundraising to meet operating costs have been unable to do so;

— services are suffering from chronic underfunding which has resulted in unmet need exacerbated by Covid-19;

— reopened disability day services are operating at approximately 40 per cent capacity;

— service providers submitted their funding requirements to the Health Service Executive in mid-June; and

— the Government’s allocation of €10 million in additional funding to day services and home support services for disability service users is insufficient and will not meet the urgent Covid-19 related costs for service providers, community and home support;
— that Ireland’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires progressive implementation; and

— the innovative and committed response of disability and dementia service providers in the delivery of care and support for people with disabilities and their families throughout this pandemic; and
calls on the Government to:
— provide the funding required to fully reopen day and other essential disability services to implement all Covid-19 related protocols; and

— provide the additional funding, resources and capital investment required to guarantee sustainable capacity within disability and dementia services.”

I am sharing time with Deputy Funchion. I am pleased to propose this motion, which has the support of all Opposition parties and most Independent Deputies. This is a significant motion that demonstrates a collective acknowledgement of the disability and dementia funding crisis. I commend my party leader, Deputy McDonald, on taking the initiative to invite all parties and Independent Members to come together on this issue, but it is disappointing that none of the Government parties responded to the invitation.

  From mid-March, day services and respite services were closed, as were most other sectors in society. This proved difficult for many people for a variety of reasons, but it is fair to say that people with disabilities were disproportionately affected. Many service providers have told me how they have noticed since reopening that the people they care for have regressed over the past six months. This sector, through no fault of its own, has been extremely slow to reopen, with most services not resuming until mid to late August or in September. Day services such as training and education facilities are only operating at approximately 40% of the capacity before Covid-19, again through no fault of theirs. I commend service providers on the terrific job they did both during the lockdown and since reopening.

  I have consulted service providers and advocacy groups and they have identified a number of challenges that are prohibiting the full reopening of services. These challenges are transport, accommodation, staff and Covid-related costs such as PPE. The issues with transport are a result of the 2 m rule, which means that only a small number of service users can travel at one time. Even if this is reduced to 1 m, it would still present a problem. For example, a bus which could have carried perhaps 15 people before Covid-19 can now only transport a total of five people. This means that either the number of buses or the number of runs by buses must be increased. Either way, investment is needed to cover the cost of hiring another bus or asking existing buses to do additional trips. Some service users are not being offered any form of transport and are depending on family members to bring them to the day services. If that is not possible, they are unable to avail of services.

  While some premises are sufficiently spacious to allow social distancing, many are not. Funding must be provided immediately to enable services to acquire additional space, where necessary.

  Staffing is a major issue. As a result of distancing rules and to accommodate all service users, additional staff are needed in practically every service. Some services have sufficient physical space to allow all service users to attend, but more staff are needed as those attending services will be placed in pods to comply with public health guidelines. They also have the added burden of replacing staff who might have to self-isolate. Many services have had to resort to employing agency staff, which has proven very costly. The ongoing issue of section 39 pay restoration means that retention of staff is being impacted harder as a result of Covid-19. People in residential units cannot attend day services so staff in those units must provide the day services as well. Service users with underlying health conditions cannot attend services, so home supports should be provided to those people. Again, staff will be the main problem. There is also an urgent need for infrastructure, home care and community support for people affected by dementia. Their sense of abandonment runs deep.

  Every service has spent a substantial amount on PPE and sanitation. Providers have not been recompensed for this, and have no idea whether they will be. Business cases for Covid-related expenditure were submitted to the HSE in June. The sector estimates the true cost of Covid-19 is €120 million, but the Government has yet to provide any funding to meet this additional burden on services. Respite care provision was suspended, too, and has only reopened on a much-reduced level recently, if at all. People need a break. For six months people with disabilities and their families have been trying to cope in what are sometimes impossible circumstances. I also note the current inadequacy of the provision of personal assistant hours for people with disabilities. This inadequacy must be addressed urgently.

  I have outlined the immediate challenges facing the full reopening of day services and respite and community care. Covid-19 will be with us for some time. The necessary funding to allow the acquisition of additional transport services, accommodation, staff and other essentials must be made available immediately. The Minister's meagre €10 million funding announcement last week was met with shock and dismay by the disability sector. I should not have to remind the Government that policy development and funding of disability services must be rights-based, as determined by the State's obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. There are numerous reports on the implementation of what needs to happen, but very little has happened. Immediate action is needed across all Departments to ensure accessible transport, a move away from congregated settings to suitable housing for independent living in the community, educational supports to allow people with disabilities have full access to education and more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

  I urge the Government to support the motion.

Deputy Kathleen Funchion: Information on Kathleen Funchion Zoom on Kathleen Funchion I commend my colleague, Deputy Tully, on bringing the motion forward. Unfortunately, people with a disability and their carers have been relegated to second-class citizens in this State. In every sector there are delays, waiting lists and, in many cases, a complete lack of services. It has become acceptable and the norm for people with a disability to have to fight for every service that others take for granted. I refer, in particular, to schools, school places in autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes and transport for both school and adult day services. There is also the issue of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and the fact that schools have to battle for a handful of appointments every year and must try to pick the children the schools believe need the service most. It is an impossible situation in which to be placed.

I wish to draw attention to an issue in the Carlow and Kilkenny region with the provision of occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy, particularly for children. There is an average waiting time of 18 months to two years for an appointment. There are also long delays in assessments and often people are delighted when they finally get an assessment, thinking they will finally get their services. However, in many cases, they must wait 18 months to two years for a follow-up service. Many people tell me they are getting one appointment per year. I stress that it is not due to the existing staff who are working in that sector. I honestly do not know how they keep going and keep their morale up when all they see are growing waiting lists of children. There definitely must be greater investment in this area immediately. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, specifically to examine the situation in Carlow and Kilkenny. I was thinking about this earlier.

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