A family in Co Tipperary have received a letter stating that their one-year-old child would not have an appointment for an assessment of need until 2028, Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley has told the Dáil.
Mr Buckley said the situation was “absolutely bonkers” and was an example of “how bad the system is”.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government has begun examining the possibility of reimbursing families who have to pay for a private assessment of need.
An assessment of need is carried out by the HSE for children or young people with a disability and identifies their health needs and what services are required.
Mr Varadkar said he had “no ideological objection whatsoever” to the policy but a reimbursement model would have to be worked out and some sort of prior approval system established.
Mr Buckley said on Wednesday that he had received a phone call that morning about a family and would be following up on it.
“A family in Tipperary received a letter this morning for their one-year-old child for an assessment of need and being told that the appointment will be in 2028,” the Cork East TD said.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach said very many children were not getting the assessments that they needed in due time, while others were waiting “far too long for the therapies that they need”.
Mr Varadkar said the Government had invested considerably in the area in recent years and children were doing much better now than they would have done if they were born 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
“But, I know it does fall short in lots of different areas and that’s particularly the case when it comes to therapies, when it comes to providing speech and language therapy, when it comes to providing OT [occupational therapy] and those services that children need and of course, the sooner they get them, the better the outcomes,” he said.
“We acknowledge that and a huge amount of it is down to a shortage of staff, being able to find those staff. It is not a unique problem in Ireland, it is a problem that exists across the world given the shortage of qualified therapists…but we’re not sitting on our hands about it. We are acting.”
In relation to reimbursing families for private assessments, the Fine Gael leader said “I have no ideological objection whatsoever when it comes to paying private practitioners”.
“We do it in general practice, we do it in pharmacy, we do it for dentistry, we do it for private hospitals through the NTPF [National Treatment Purchase Fund], so I’ve never had any problem with that, others might have in the past,” he said.
“I’ve never had a problem with using private practitioners to provide public services, no problem with that whatsoever. But if we do, we need to get it right. We need to know how much capacity exists in the private sector, I’m told it might not be that much…and also need to know what the legal basis for doing so would be.”
The Labour Party put forward a motion this morning calling on the Government to tackle waiting lists for assessments and support for children with autism and disabilities.
Labour TD Ged Nash said the bureaucracy and the lack of effective responses from the HSE was “destroying families”.
Mr Nash said he had received an email from a woman this week and she was “sitting worriedly beside her autistic son’s hospital bed”.
“Her son is in hospital because of the consequences of what the woman who knows him best describes as ‘uncontrollable behaviours’,” Mr Nash said.
“He is an autistic person and has multiple other conditions. He has mental health problems too. He has been hospitalised on a number of occasions.
“Gardaí have often been involved as well as other authorities. He had injured himself in school. He is, sadly, at the moment a danger to himself and it is sad to conclude that he also represents a danger to family members and to others also.”
The Louth TD said the family was “at breaking point” and they fear for “their loved one’s safety”.
“He doesn’t need to be in an acute hospital bed any longer. He needs permanent residential support,” Mr Nash added.
“In the meantime, he and the family urgently need appropriate respite care. The stress, the sleepless nights, the anxiety is simply unfathomable and untolerable. No family should have to go through this.”
Mr Nash said the young person was currently being supported for an application for a residential service in one county.
“But by the time that’s processed, there’s a good chance that he will be in adult services governed by a team in another county, by virtue of his address and the local service arrangements,” he said.
The Labour TD said that “this merry-go-round is just intolerable” and simply could not go on.
“It’s inhumane and it needs to change. The bureaucracy and the lack of effective responses from the HSE is, I’m afraid to say, destroying families.”