Families of children who have an intellectual disability and who graduate to adult services have been unable to access respite care in the Cork region for the past four years, because of a beds shortage.
The HSE said no new adult applicants have been able to access respite since 2013, because no additional capacity has been made available.
The HSE was responding to queries from Fine Gael’s Senator Colm Burke, who said the crisis in respite would worsen as people lived longer and as carers aged.
“I was doing door-to-door work recently and a woman told me her son has turned 18 and can no longer get respite. When he was getting respite prior to turning 18, that woman would sleep for two full days,” Mr Burke said.
He also knew of a 79-year-old man who drives his daughter, in her 50s, to Cope Foundation every day, a 15-20 mile journey, and who worried that he may not be able to do so much longer.
Mr Burke, Fine Gael’s Seanad spokesperson on health, said these cases highlighted the urgent need for forward planning around the age profile of carers, in order for the HSE to know what targets it needed to meet in the coming years.
However, the HSE has yet to conduct an assessment of the age profile of those who require respite and who are living with their parents, or of the age profile of carers. It was “the intention” of disability services in Cork and Kerry to engage with all service providers in the coming months to gather this information, before the end of 2017, the HSE said.
There are 10 fewer respite beds open all year-round in Cork in 2017, compared to 2015, down from 99 to 89.
The HSE blamed the respite crisis on a number of factors. These included the diversion of funding to day places for pupils graduating from school or rehabilitative training programmes, as well as high standards demanded by health watchdog, Hiqa.
Respite services that were previously available at St Raphael’s Centre (two beds) and Grove House (one bed) are no longer available, “as both services are reconfigured to achieve Hiqa compliance”.
While the expansion of respite services for people who have disabilities was recognised “as essential to enable families to continue to care for individuals with disabilities and, in particular, significant disabilities”, nonetheless, no additional development funding was made available for increasing respite facilities in the 2017 national budget to the HSE.
The Cope Foundation did get money locally from the HSE — €315,000 — for adult respite in February, 2017, equivalent to 1,1000 additional bed nights in a full year.
The HSE said some agencies had developed a ‘shortbreaks service’ across Cork City and County, in response to the respite crisis: for example, COPE Foundation had identified two ‘short-break houses’, as well as different models of short-break provision, including voluntary host family breaks; holiday breaks — overnight stays in holiday locations; and home support.
The HSE said it would continue to pursue funding for respite through the 2018 estimates process. Mr Burke said lack of respite was “an accruing problem that will not go away”.