Deputy Healy raised the issue of Delays with Needs Assessments for Children in Tipperary South on 31 January 2017 in the Dáil.
Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group): The Disability Act 2005 provides for the assessment of health and education needs of persons with disability and provides for services to meet those needs. Section 9(5) of the Act also provides that the executive shall cause an assessment of applicants to be commenced within three months of the date of receipt of the application. The background information and supporting documentation refers to the need for services to be provided early in life to ameliorate a disability. They set out the procedure for the application for the assessment of needs. It states that the Act provides that the assessments must be started within three months of the application and also provides that the HSE must complete the assessment within three months. That is a legal requirement of the HSE as set out in the Act. Unfortunately, that is not the situation that pertains in south Tipperary and the legal entitlement is being breached. Children are not being assessed within the three-month period. There are huge delays in the assessment of needs of children. The service is broken and we need an immediate solution. The current situation for children in terms of the assessment of needs in south Tipperary is totally unacceptable.
A considerable number of parents have contacted me on the matter. I will give some indication of the difficulties and delays that arise. A parent whose child was due to start an assessment on 19 January was told recently the assessment would not commence until April 2019, in two years’ time. That is simply not good enough. The child is now over three years of age and will be more than five years old in two years’ time. As we all know, early intervention is crucial to ensure children with disabilities are properly looked after and have services provided to them.
Where an assessment of needs has not been completed, there are consequent delays in the provision of other services, for example, resource teaching, special needs assistants, speech therapy and a range of services children with special needs require to ameliorate their position. I urge the Minister of State to take steps to ensure the situation in south Tipperary is addressed and that additional staff are made available to the service there as a priority to ensure the legal entitlement of children to an assessment within a three-month period is fulfilled.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Offaly, Fine Gael): I am pleased to have the opportunity to update Deputy Healy and the House on the progress under way in developing services for children with disabilities and the current position on waiting times for assessment of needs in particular with regard to the disability services in south Tipperary.
Under the Disability Act 2005, a child can request an assessment of need. The HSE recognises that it faces significant challenges in respect of meeting the statutory timeframes which apply to the assessment of need process. The number of applications for assessment under the Act has increased each year since the Act was introduced. More than 6,000 applications were received countrywide in 2016. However, as of 31 December 2016, 100% of applications for south Tipperary, had commenced within the statutory timeframe. At 31 December, there were a total of 42 applications overdue for completion with 14 of these overdue by less than one month and 32 overdue by less than three months. In some individual assessments, it is more challenging to adhere to the statutory timelines, for example. Where a psychology assessment is required, this may necessitate a number of visits over a prolonged period of time. This would be true for instance regarding borderline cases on the autism spectrum.
The Disability Act 2005 makes allowances for these exceptional circumstances in individual assessments as regards the timeline for completion of assessments. In south Tipperary, it is acknowledged that there is currently a deficit in psychology services, a function which is essential for the completion of the assessment of need report. However, recruitment is under way to fill an additional post for a senior psychology post for the early intervention team. I know the Deputy will welcome this news. Interviews are to be held in February. The current Programme for a Partnership Government commits this Government to improving services and increasing supports for people with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention for children with special needs.
The HSE has recognised that early intervention services and services for school aged children with disabilities need to be improved and organised more effectively. To this end, a major reconfiguration of therapy resources for children with disabilities aged up to 18 years is well under way. This involves bringing staff from different service providers together into network teams and is called the national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people, nought to 18 years. Since 2014, the roll out of the national programme on progressing disability services for children and young people, nought to 18 years, has entailed targeted investment of €14 million and the provision of 275 additional therapy staff to increase services for children with all disabilities.
I take this opportunity to refer to the situation arising from the assessment of needs at national level. There is a significant delay in respect of complaints with over 1,000 complaints still to be dealt with. I understand that there is only one individual in the appeals office nationally with no full-time administrative support staff. This situation is also unmanageable and needs to be addressed urgently by the Department and the HSE. I welcome the Minister of State’s response with regard to south Tipperary and hope interviews will be held and that the job will be filled shortly. If there is any delay, I ask that an effort be made to ensure that the post is filled on a temporary basis.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Offaly, Fine Gael): Clearly, I regret, as does the HSE, the difficulties some families experience in accessing the assessment of needs service. The HSE has confirmed that it is working to reduce waiting times and address the issues arising for all children and their families through a number of measures. The HSE is pursuing the filling of vacant posts and is highlighting the need for additional disability and psychology positions. It has produced an analysis of service demand and resource requirements and the Department will consider this as appropriate.
Other measures the HSE has taken with regard to assessment of need waiting lists in south Tipperary include validating the list in operation with a focus on those waiting the longest. The HSE has also outsourced limited services for children to reduce waiting times. In respect of the Deputy’s final point about the appeals office, I do not have information about that but I will certainly make inquiries and come back to him on that.