Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
122. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is still a shortage of speech and language therapy services while trained speech and language therapists are having to emigrate to find work; if she will address this problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45580/08]
There were a number of issues contributing to difficulties accessing therapy services, one of which had been the supply of qualified personnel available to fill vacant posts. A particular priority for my Department and the Department of Education and Science in recent years has been the expansion of the supply of therapy graduates. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future. In this regard, since 1997, the number of training places for speech and language therapy has been increased from 25 to 105 which represents an increase of 320%.
Almost 130,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Government’s ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The numbers employed in speech and language therapy has also grown significantly from 282 whole time equivalents employed in December 1997 rising to 736 whole time equivalents employed in September 2008, which represents an increase of 161%.
The Government is committed to ensuring continued adequate recruitment of professional staff across a range of community settings to ensure the continued development of community services. Additional funding of €20 million has been provided in 2009 for health and education services for children with special educational needs. This funding will provide a total of 125 additional therapy posts in the HSE targeted at children of school-going age. 90 of these will be in the disability services, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. 35 additional posts will be provided for child and adolescent mental health services, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists for new and existing multi-disciplinary teams.
In addition, certain key health and social care professional posts, including speech and language therapists, are to be protected by setting employment floors for these grades within the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2009. These posts are essential to the development of a number of services areas such as disability (including speech and language therapy), child adolescent mental health services and child protection services. In order to protect these posts, my Department will be writing to the HSE setting out the minimum employment levels to be maintained within each of these occupations in the health sector in 2009. The recruitment and retention of these key front line professional posts is vital to ensure continued progress in the development of community settings.
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