Thursday, 29 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
114. Mr. Farrelly asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the lack of speech therapy facilities for persons in counties Louth and Meath who have Down's syndrome; his plans to provide these necessary services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30253/01]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Responsibility for the provision of speech and language therapy services in counties Louth and Meath is a matter in the first instance for the North-Eastern Health Board. The Board has informed me that due to the general shortage of speech and language therapists it is experiencing difficulties in filling vacant posts. Amongst the measures which the board is taking to fill vacancies are international advertisement and the sponsorship of students. A second dedicated speech and language therapist post was sanctioned this year for the early intervention services in Louth which will also be advertised internationally. When these posts are filled pre-school children with Down's syndrome will receive services from multi-disciplinary teams.
In County Louth, speech and language therapy services for children with Down's syndrome are provided through the disability services. However due to the long-term need of these individuals, a number of children also receive services from the generic speech and language therapy service.
Children in the 0-6 age group come within the remit of the early intervention service, which currently has a vacancy in this area. An additional post provides services to schoolgoing children in special schools in Dundalk and Drogheda and in mainstream schools throughout Louth and south Monaghan.
Currently all referrals in the Louth-South Monaghan area are screened within three months of referral and are then waitlisted. In the interim, where it is appropriate and if they are wish to participate, parents may be offered places on an intensive parent training course or a home programme. All clients are seen by whichever therapist can take them when the client reaches the top of the waiting list. As children with Down's syndrome are generally waitlisted at birth, this currently means that in most cases they begin to access therapy services between 18-26 months of age.
Children with Down's syndrome in County Meath receive speech and language therapy services in a variety of settings, including St. Mary's Special School and through community clinics. While there are waiting lists in the community services, the Speech and Language Therapy Department does try to prioritise children with Down's syndrome.
The early intervention services for children from 0-6 years are currently being developed in the board's region. This involves the establishment of dedicated multi-disciplinary teams which will provide the appropriate services to children with developmental delay. The board, in partnership with Enable Ireland, has commenced this service in south-west Meath. A second multi-disciplinary team will be established in the north of the county early in 2002. Children with Down's syndrome from 0-6 years will therefore receive speech and language therapy within the context of the developing early intervention services.
The Deputy will be aware from previous infor mation given to this House of my concerns regarding the labour shortages affecting the therapy professions nation wide and the various measures which I am taking to address these matters.
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