Therapists sharply critical of disability assessments

Occupational therapists have criticised changes to an assessment of need for children under disability legislation, just as a High Court judgement will compel the HSE to deliver outstanding assessments within six weeks for two families who challenged the former system.

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An assessment of need (AON) allows children to be diagnosed and then apply for the resources they require in line with their disability.

The current system of delivery was the subject of judicial reviews after families claimed the HSE was not meeting its statutory requirements, namely the AON commences within three months of the application, and that it then be completed within another three months, including the furnishing of all relevant reports regarding what resources would then be required for the child.

Ms Justice Mary Faherty had heard two cases and, yesterday, ruled the HSE must complete assessments of need on children in those cases within six weeks.

Solicitor Gareth Noble, who represented families involved, said the ruling was “significant”, while more than a dozen related cases were adjourned until June 1.

The rulings could impact assessment delivery for those already awaiting the service but, earlier this year, the HSE said it was going to introduce a new screening process, including a Preliminary Team Assessment (PTA) model that would be completed in just 90 minutes.

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), with 3,000 members, criticised the proposal and claimed it could lead to wrong diagnoses. The Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI) weighed in with its own concerns and even suggested operating under it could contravene the code of ethics of Coru, the State’s multi-profession health regulator.

AOTI chief strategy officer Odhrán Allen said the HSE had not consulted with the association on the proposal.

AOTI is very concerned about the HSE’s new system for assessment of need,” said Mr Allen. “Ninety minutes is not a sufficient period of time to adequately assess the needs of children with disabilities and we are particularly concerned about the negative impact this aspect of the system will have on children and their families.

“It will also place undue pressure on occupational therapists being asked to carry out these assessments and may place them in conflict with AOTI and CORU codes of ethics.

“We are disappointed that HSE management has failed to properly consult with AOTI on this matter and appeal for them to engage with AOTI and other professional bodies to address our concerns with the new system for assessment of need.”

The HSE said the new system was in place since April 30 and part of a standardised process implemented countrywide. As for criticisms, the spokesperson said the HSE received a statement from the PSI, and responded, adding: “To date, there has been no further communication from the PSI.”

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