HSE cutbacks to affect most vulnerable children

SOME of the country’s most vulnerable children may be left without vital healthcare and support services as a result of HSE budget cutbacks.

The country’s largest provider of community-based services to people with intellectual disabilities said yesterday it may have to turn away vulnerable clients because of funding problems.

Since 2003, St Michael’s House in Dublin has suffered a €2 million reduction in funding from the HSE and will have to consider withholding services to new clients.

“We are experiencing a crisis,” said chairman Maurice Bracken. “On the one hand, our waiting lists are increasing and on the other our funding is decreasing.”

In a statement last night, the HSE said it was “regretful” that St Michael’s should choose to go public with “claims” regarding its funding situation.

St Michael’s House already provides services to more than 1,500 children and adults with a learning disability, and their families, through 160 community-based centres in the greater Dublin area. Among those at risk because of budget cutbacks are 16 disabled adults and children who are homeless, mainly because of the death of their parents.

“We cannot provide homes for these clients and can only accommodate them through our respite service,” Mr Bracken said. “This has the knock-on effect of reducing respite breaks for other families.”

In addition, he said, there are another 240 parents over the age of 70 who are still looking after their son or daughter at home. That son or daughter could need an emergency residential place at any time.

“We cannot confirm to these parents that we will be in a position to provide a home for their son or daughter. Understandably, this is causing a great deal of stress for these parents.”

St Michael’s House currently has 280 clients on its priority residential waiting list — the largest waiting list in the country.

According to CEO Paul Ledwidge, the shortfall has arisen because the Government has diverted €10 million away from the €50 million intellectual disability service budget to implement the Disability Act.

“Within the last month we’ve been negotiating with the HSE and yesterday we were told that that was the amount of money that was available.”

The HSE has offered them €800,000 to pay for 10 residential places and €300,000 for 15 day places, but Mr Ledwidge said that St Michael’s needs at least double that.

They are already unable to provide services to parents of newly-born babies with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities and can’t accept referrals from maternity hospitals and GPs.

The HSE said last night that it is “in discussions” with St Michael’s House regarding its 2008 allocation and that the institution receives “considerable funding” from the taxpayer.


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