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Written Answers. - Autism Services.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 182. Mr. Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten  asked the Minister for Health and Children Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin  the action he intends to take to develop early intervention services for children on the autistic spectrum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26967/02]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O'Malley): Information on Tim O'Malley Zoom on Tim O'Malley Additional funding has been made available annually in recent years to the health boards in respect of the provision of health related support services for persons with autism and those with an intellectual disability. In particular €14.6 million has been invested in health related support services for children with autism or intellectual disability nationally between 1998 and 2002. A further €3.3 million has been allocated to these services in 2003. This includes diagnostic and assessment services, early intervention, home support and out reach support to children of school-going age.

However many health boards and specialist service providers have been experiencing difficulties in recruiting allied health professionals and specifically speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists. This is due primarily to the general shortage of available staff in these grades nationally. Health boards and agencies have been and are continuing to undertake intensive recruitment drives at home and abroad. My Department has asked the health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority to explore other approaches which might result in the maintenance of an existing level of service provision or enhancement in line with agreed services developments for children using the resources allocated to the services. It is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards to decide on the specific approaches which they may consider appropriate in this area.

In response to my concern regarding the high level of vacancies my Department commissioned a report from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates on current and future supply and demand conditions in the labour market for speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The study was published in July 2001. The report recommends a major expansion in the number of training places available for those professions.

An inter-agency working group was established comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The HEA, following a formal bidding process between third level educational institutions, has allocated an additional 175 training places to respond to the training needs identified in the study. In addition, the Northern Area Health Board undertook a concerted overseas recruitment drive on behalf of all health boards. Procedures are being streamlined to minimise the length of time taken to validate foreign qualifications consistent with the overreaching need to ensure that all therapists working in the health sector are appropriately trained and qualified. As the Deputy can see from the measures outlined, the Government has been and is continuing to [1565]work to expand the level of support available nationally to children with autism or intellectual disability.

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