Some people with disabilities have been “effectively confined to their homes” due to the lack of personal assistance hours they receive.
Others found themselves reliant on unpaid support from families and friends, and the current supports available do not go far enough to allow most service users live a full and independent life, according to the findings of a new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
The ESRI’s new research bulletin, entitled 'Personal assistance services in Ireland: a capability approach to understanding the lived experience of disabled people' and authored by Eamonn Carroll, is published on Friday and describes inconsistencies experienced by disabled people in accessing personal assistant support and limitations in how those supports might be used.
The research was conducted as part of an ESRI-National Disability Authority research programme aimed at exploring issues of significance facing disabled people in Ireland today.
In Ireland, the HSE provides a range of assisted living services including personal assistant (PA) services. Under the National Service Plan for 2022, the HSE said it would deliver 1.7 million PA hours.
The ESRI study found that the median number of PA hours received is 10, with higher allocations among those with higher levels of education, those living in urban areas and those with lower levels of “natural supports” such as family or friends.
“In terms of the nature of the supports received, and how disabled people use their PA services, support for personal care and activities of daily living are prominent, indicated by 71 and 79% of respondents respectively,” the research said. “Assistance with social activities is indicated by just over half of respondents.”
It also indicated that assistance in the workplace and assistance in education or training was less prevalent, at 19% and 16% respectively. Many respondents to the study were satisfied with the quality of their current support, and especially with their service provider and/or personal assistants.
At the same time, a “significant majority” wanted a broader range of supports to be available. “Support for social activities was the most common specific support respondents would like to have access to,” the report said.
Under policy implications, the report notes that increased hours that had been called for would require a “substantial increase in funding”.
It said there was space for potential reforms such as standardising how PAs are allocated across the country and drawing up best practice guidelines for putting service users in charge of their own PA. Improving the conditions for PAs is also considered essential.
The HSE’s head of operations for disability services Bernard O’Regan said: “The report, importantly, describes the inconsistencies experienced by disabled people in accessing PA supports and the limitations in how those supports might be used.
“This report will be used by the HSE through a Working Group being established to improve this important service, as well as making a valuable contribution to the service planning process.”