Ireland’s three largest disability groups have joined forces to urge Health Minister James Reilly to protect funding for the specialist sector.
Inclusion Ireland, Irish Autism Action, and Down Syndrome Ireland made the call as the HSE puts the finishing touches to its budget for next year.
Health bosses have until early next week to send its plan on how to cut at least €666m from the system in 2014 to Dr Reilly.
The minister will then have three weeks to publish the plan, which has already suffered two 10-day delays due to the difficulty in cutting back an overstretched system.
However, with the likelihood of deeper cuts hanging over them, the three disability groups — which together represent more than 150,000 people — have urged Dr Reilly not to allow yet more attacks on the area.
“The Government will maintain that some €1.4bn is presently spent in the disability area, but it is clearly not reaching young children who need therapy inputs,” warned Inclusion Ireland chief executive Paddy Connolly. “Better management of the disability budget is urgently needed to ensure families with young children receive the supports they need.
“We are clearly failing many thousands of children if we cannot equip them, through speech and language therapy, with the basic skills to communicate.”
According to the groups, out of the 34,617 people currently on speech and language therapy waiting lists, more than 6,500 have been denied the care they need for more than a year.
A further 15,830 people are waiting for an assessment by an occupational therapist, with 2,500 — 1,900 of whom are children — seeing treatment delayed for over 12 months.
In the HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster region there are now 45,000 fewer respite nights for families than just one year ago.
And despite the Disability Act insisting children under the age of six are automatically entitled to have their needs assessed within six months, in 2012, 763 children saw the checks delayed beyond this timeframe.
“Parents all around the country are fundraising so they can pay privately for autism supports for their children,” said Irish Autism Action chief executive Kevin Whelan. “Many families have given up any hope of getting a service from the public health system.”
100 children lose out
More than 100 children with Down’s syndrome have lost their discretionary medical cards because of the cutbacks scandal surrounding the issue.
Down Syndrome Ireland chief executive, Pat Clarke, revealed the situation as part of a call to prevent a further slashing of vital health service budgets taking place.
A key part of the HSE’s planned €666m worth of cuts is expected to be a €113m reduction in medical card expenditure.
Mr Clarke said if such a target is met, it will have a “massive impact” on children affected by the condition. “We are aware of over 100 children with Down syndrome who have had their discretionary medical cards withdrawn,” said Mr Clarke.
“There is real fear this number will rise as a result of the budget commitment to find further savings.”
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