Written Answers. - Services for People with Disabilities.

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 577 No. 3

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  432.  Mr. Hayes  Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes   asked the Minister for Health and Children  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   the Government's proposals to address the shortfall of support services such as speech and language therapy, occupational and sensory therapy, physiotherapy and psychology in the interim period. [30810/03]

  433.  Mr. Hayes  Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes   asked the Minister for Health and Children  Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin   the Government's long-term plan to address the shortage of qualified personnel in the specialised fields to cope with the rising numbers in the autism spectrum. [30811/03]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O'Malley): Information on Tim O'Malley  Zoom on Tim O'Malley  I propose to take Questions Nos. 432 and 433 together.

The chief executive officer of each health board-authority is responsible for the management of the workforce in his-her region, including the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff employed, in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining within the regional approved ceiling.

Staffing requirements in the areas highlighted by the Deputy should be viewed in the context of the substantial increases in employment levels achieved in these areas over recent years. In this context, comparing employment levels at end of June 2003 to those at end of 1999, there were nearly 85% or 5,817 more health and social care professionals employed in the health services in wholetime equivalent, WTE, terms.

Developments such as pay increases, improvements in career structure and enhanced opportunities for professional and career development have all supported increased staffing levels for key health and social care professions. The implementation of the pay recommendations of the public service benchmarking body – subject to the successful completion of the performance verification process – will make a further [673]important contribution to recruitment and improved retention. The ongoing implementation of the action plan for people management – a key action under the health strategy – has a crucial role in improving retention and reducing turnover of skilled professional staff.

Specific human resource initiatives have contributed significantly to meeting the human resource requirements of the health services, including those highlighted by the Deputy.

As far as the therapy professions are concerned, the report, Current and Future Demand Conditions in the Labour Market for Certain Professional Therapists, commissioned by my Department from Dr. Peter Bacon and associates, concluded that a major expansion was essential in the numbers of therapists and this required a very substantial increase in therapy training places to meet the long-term requirements of the health services.

Significant progress has been achieved in boosting the number of therapy training places in line with the recommendations of that report. In May 2002, the Minister for Health and Children announced, in conjunction with the Minister for Education and Science, an additional 175 therapy training places in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy to achieve the recommended increase in the number of therapists over the next decade recommended in the report. The first intake into these additional training places, which include 75 speech and language therapy places, in UL, UCC and NUIG, commenced this year.

Intensive efforts have been undertaken to improve staffing levels in occupational therapy and speech and language therapy both at local and national level. The success of these measures are reflected in the increase of 77 speech and language therapists, which is more than 20%, and 208 occupational therapists, which is more than 47%, employed in the public health service over the past two years. Relevant developments include the continued implementation of the recommendation of the report of the expert group on various health professions, which included new pay scales and career structures, the undertaking of a concerted overseas recruitment drive on behalf of all health boards, the introduction of a fast-track working visa scheme for health and social care professionals and the streamlining of procedures for the validation of overseas qualifications.

Health & Social CareProfessionals 2000 2002 Change %Change
OT – all grades 442.97 650.59 207.62 46.87
Speech and Language Therapy – all grades 385.78 462.29 76.51 19.83
All Physiotherapist Grades 592.89 1063.68 470.79 79

My Department remains committed to working on an ongoing basis, with health agencies, educational providers and the education authorities [674]to ensure adequate provision of training places in clinical psychology, consistent with the medium-term human resource requirements of the health services as detailed in the important recommendations on investment in training and education detailed in the action plan for people management published in November, 2002. A particular priority is to secure the best return, in terms of graduate output, on the significant financial resources being invested in the health services to support postgraduate clinical psychology training. Consequently, my Department, together with the health boards' directors of human resources, has been examining various issues in relation to human resource planning for clinical psychologists in the health services including the requirement to increase the number of postgraduate psychology training places on a planned and sustainable medium-term basis. A paper outlining a proposal to develop a new model has been produced and this document has been circulated to the relevant parties for discussion.

It is hoped that agreement to move to a new model will help maximise the number of psychology training places in the system, in line with service requirements. The number of clinical psychologists all grades in the health services has increased from 292 at the end of 1997 to 493 at the end of June 2003.

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