The ‘shocking’ state of disability services for children in Louth and Meath has been highlighted in Leinster House by Sinn Féin TDs Ruairí Ó Murchú and Darren O’Rourke.
The Louth and Meath representatives secured a Topical Issue debate in the chamber on Thursday evening where Deputy Ó Murchú told the government about the impact the chronic shortages in staff in Dundalk were having on children and their families.
The Dundalk TD revealed how there are no occupational therapists in paediatric services at the HSE primary care centre in Barrack Street, Dundalk, with four vacant posts to be recruited and one maternity leave vacancy., leaving hundreds of children waiting for help.
Deputy Ó Murchú said: ‘Unfortunately, in the context of all of these issues, there is always an element of Groundhog Day.
‘That is something we need to address. We cannot continue having these same conversations.
‘There had been a failure to fill vacant posts (in Dundalk) via agency recruitment, but there will be a recruitment competition alongside three other CHOs to fill senior vacancies.
‘It will be late autumn before any successful applicants are appointed. What we are talking about is 659 children on the waiting list for primary care, occupational therapy or paediatric assessment.
‘Some 382 of those children have been on the list more than a year. The average waiting time is three years.’
He also highlighted some of the cases that had been brought to his attention by families.
He said: ‘I am dealing with a nine-year-old boy with global development delay, which involves mental and physical issues.
His father has been told that for occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, he could be waiting another eight to 12 months for an appointment.
‘He was initially with the early intervention team in Drogheda until he was six, and then he was moved to the children’s team in Dundalk. He got access to services in October 2019.
‘While I accept that Covid created difficulties, he has not got any face-to-face speech and language therapy in the interim.
‘An occupational therapist has visited since we became involved but, obviously, that is not sufficient to cut the mustard.
‘We are also dealing with a mam with an autistic four-year-old who is not toilet trained and cannot get a place in a school.
‘There was a family intervention meeting and the mother was told that no therapies would be possible for a couple of months.
‘This child is not toilet trained and that is creating specific difficulties. The problem is that the child cannot get a place in a special school or in a regular school until that is resolved.
‘The only thing the mother is being offered is parenting programmes. Obviously, this is not fit-for-purpose.
We must get serious about workforce planning. We know what numbers we have, but we need an assessment of how many people we need and we must find any means possible to ensure we can employ those people.
‘Looking down the line, we must ensure there is a throughput of people being trained.
‘It is also about ensuring we facilitate people with work visas and whatever else is necessary. As we can see, the cost of not doing this is astronomical’.