Ger Reaney was responding to Damian Quigg, Sinn Féin councillor for South and West Kerry, who raised the matter at yesterday’s southern regional health forum.
Mr Quigg said the reality was that if “an able-bodied child” missed school for 20 consecutive days, the education and welfare authorities would be in contact, with parents facing the possibility of a court summons.
“But it’s the exact opposite in this case,” he said. Instead, the authorities had failed to supply the child with the support she needed to attend school, but nobody was being penalised.
Mr Quigg said he learned of the child’s predicament while attending an open day at St Francis Special School in Beaufort, Co Kerry.
“The parent broke down crying, saying ‘my child can’t go to school’,” said Mr Quigg.
Mr Reaney said he would “follow up” on Mr Quigg’s claims. “I wasn’t aware that a child wasn’t attending school,” he said, adding that it is not acceptable.
Mr Quigg asked the forum to support his motion calling on the HSE to provide a nurse and a physiotherapist at St Francis. The physiotherapist for the team providing services to the school has been on long-term sick leave since November 1, 2016. Mr Reaney conceded this has reduced the resource available to children attending the school.
“Whilst the long-term sick leave is unfortunate, the KIDS service has been a physiotherapy service to children based on priority needs,” he said.
In terms of nursing support, he said it is “not the norm for Cork Kerry community healthcare to fund dedicated nursing services to special schools”. He said they contracted nurses to meet the clinical needs of children with complex medical needs “primarily in the child’s own home”. He said the specific need within St Francies was recognised following an assessment of need conducted 18 months ago, on which the existing resource provision of 32 hours per week nursing has been based.
“While an initial assessment carried out by public health nursing indicated that an increase in nursing support was required, upon further examination there have been no changes to the numbers of children with [complex conditions],” said Mr Reaney.
Mr Quigg was among a number of councillors attending the forum who were critical of Health Minister Simon Harris’ failure to meet with a deputation from the forum to discuss waiting lists despite repeated requests. The requests have been ongoing since February. In a letter last month, the minister referred the councillors to Gerry O’Dwyer, head of the South/Southwest Hospitals group.