Only 6% of children suspected of suffering some form of disability are having their health and education needs assessed within the statutory deadline of six months.
According to the HSE, the low rate of compliance with the regulatory timeframe meant more than 3,500 children were waiting over six months at the end of March to have their assessments completed.
Under the Disability Act 2005, any parent or guardian of a child born after June 1, 2002, who feels their child may have a disability can apply for an assessment of their health and education needs.
The assessment must start within three months of when the HSE receives a completed application form and must be completed within a further three months.
The HSE said only 9% of cases — 374 out of 4,237 applications for assessment of need — were completed within the six-month deadline last year but the rate had fallen to 6% in the first quarter of 2019.
It said the assessment process had begun within the three-month timeframe in approximately 70% of cases. The average time taken to complete an assessment has increased steadily from 8.9 months in 2014 to 18.5 months in 2018.
In reply to a parliamentary question from Independents4Change TD, Tommy Broughan, the HSE’s head of operations of disability services, Cathal Morgan acknowledged that the number of assessments still awaiting completion “remain high”.
However, he said there had been some improvement in the figures since last year. The number of applications overdue for completion had fallen from 4,067 at the end of 2017 to 3,568 by the end of March this year.
The biggest logjam is in Cork and Kerry where 959 children were waiting over six months to have their assessment finalised.
Dr Morgan said each of the HSE’s nine community healthcare organisations was required to have plans in place to ensure compliance with legislation governing assessment of need.
“There is reason to believe that these plans are showing some positive effect in terms of dealing with non-compliance,” Dr Morgan said. However, he added:
It is critically important to note that there are ‘structural’ and ‘resource’ challenges that impact on [our] capacity to deal effectively with assessment of need compliance.
Dr Morgan said the HSE wanted to standardise its operational approach to the assessment of disability need which it aimed to introduce this autumn.
The HSE said its current national service plan provided for an extra 100 new therapy posts in childrens’ disability services by 2020.
However, Dr Morgan said the HSE was working to address the findings of a 2018 report by the National Disability Authority that an additional 400 posts were required to provide adequate staffing levels to meet the demand for children’s disability services.