Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
124. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the west Waterford area has been without the use of an occupational therapist for a number of months and that this is causing increasing difficulties for people with special needs in having assessments carried out for the purposes of providing badly needed alterations to their accommodation under the housing aid for the disabled scheme; if this practice will be discontinued; if immediate steps will be taken to reverse this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18105/02]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The provision of health related support services, including occupational therapy, is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Funding is also provided to the health boards to address the waiting lists on a priority basis. The first priority is individual needs. Other needs such as centre-based needs may be addressed as resources permit. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the South-Eastern Health Board with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.
Furthermore, I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department commissioned a report on current and future supply and demand in the labour market for certain professional therapists from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates. The Bacon report, which was published in July 2001, concluded that a major expansion is essential in the numbers of therapy professionals over the next 15 years including an increase of over 150% in occupational therapists. This will require a significant increase in training places with a recommended annual increase of 75 places for occupational therapy.
To advance this core recommendation of the report, an inter-agency working group, comprising officials from the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority, was established to seek proposals from third level institutions to ensure the rapid provision of the additional therapy training places. On 29 May 2002 the former Minister for Education and Science, Dr. Woods, announced the provision of 175 extra professional therapy training places for students to tackle the acute shortage of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists in the health service. This initiative almost doubles the number of therapy places available at present and it is expected that the first intake to the extra places for speech and language therapy will commence in the 2003-2004 academic year.
Other key recommendations of the report include: provision of sufficient clinical placements within the health service through the establishment of a national network of clinical placement co-ordinators; need for fast-track qualification and review of the existing training system; concerted recruitment from overseas; establishment of the planned system of statutory registration consistent with the requirement for a patient-centred health service; career structure, workload, working practices and skills-mix issues encompassed in the context of the report of the Expert Group on Various Health Professions – published April 2000.
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