Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Brian O’Shea: St. Joseph’s School, Parnell Street, Waterford, which caters for children with a mild learning disability, and St. Martin’s Special School, Ballytruckle, Waterford, which caters for children with a moderate learning disability, effectively have had no speech and language therapy service since May 2009. The schools had been sharing a speech and language therapist who spent two days in St. Joseph’s, two days in St. Martin’s and one day on administration. I understand that the therapist who had been supplying the service has been on sick leave since May of last year, but the HSE has failed to provide a replacement service for the pupils of both schools. This means that the children with mild and moderate learning disability attending these schools are deprived of this essential service. Individual crisis cases can be referred to the speech and language therapy service at Waterford Regional Hospital, but this is of little use because the children need regular weekly therapy services.
Some pupils attending St. Joseph’s School who needing speech and language therapy can come from some distance away, making it all the more essential that a regular service be provided in their school. The children of St. Joseph’s and St. Martin’s are not receiving the quality of education to which they are entitled and their ability to achieve their learning potential is being seriously compromised.
Children are now being enrolled in these schools for September 2010. New pupils requiring speech and language therapy will need to be screened by the speech and language therapist in order that appropriate programmes can be put in place. I call on the Minister to ensure the deprivation of these children in this essential service is put right forthwith. The effect of not providing this therapy is that the overall educational service provided for these children will continue to deteriorate, and the net effect of not having badly needed speech and language therapy will be to compound the difficulties of these vulnerable children who need every possible support and assistance in aspiring to the optimum quality of life. It is a measure of how uncaring the HSE, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Education and Skills have become if they can live with a situation where the vital needs of these children are being so shamefully abandoned.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney): I will be taking this Adjournment matter on behalf the Minister for Health and Children. I thank Deputy O’Shea for raising this matter and I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the position on the speech and language therapy service at St. Joseph’s special school, Parnell Street, Waterford, and St. Martin’s special school, Kilcohan, Waterford. The Health Service Executive has advised the Minister for Health and Children that the speech and language therapy service for St. Joseph’s and St. Martin’s schools in Waterford have been provided directly as a school-based intervention programme for several years, totalling one whole-time equivalent staff member. The service to both schools caters for all children in the two schools, with 94 children currently identified as requiring intervention, varying from high priority direct intervention to low priority review with school support intervention programmes.
The speech and language therapy service was suspended in 2009 owing to staffing issues. School support intervention programmes have continued and a speech and language therapy service to a limited number of children has been offered within existing staffing resources. The HSE has been endeavouring to address the issue and is now developing a revised approach over the coming months that will create a structure of integrated therapy to schools in the Waterford area. St. Joseph’s special school will be considered within this primary care development. Depending on the individual child’s needs, it is likely that therapy provision could be delivered through continuing therapy in the community-based clinics or, where appropriate, in a school-based therapy programme.
Owing to the specialist nature of the St. Martin’s school caseload, the HSE is recommending a resumption of therapy sessions within the school for these children. It is hoped to resume services within the school when staffing allows. In the interim, a temporary allocation will be provided through primary care for high priority cases.
Service continuity can be affected by staffing issues arising, including resignations, maternity leave, career breaks and so on. The maintenance and development of speech and language therapy services remains a priority for the HSE locally, with three new additional posts appointed in the past two years in primary care, disability services and child psychiatry. Children who continue to meet the criteria for other specialist HSE services will continue to receive their intervention through these multidisciplinary teams, including early intervention for all children under six years, autism spectrum disorders where the intervention of the ASD team is indicated, child and adolescent mental health service teams following diagnosis of mental health disorder, and a central remedial clinic service in Waterford where children present with primary physical disability and where continued multidisciplinary team intervention is recommended.
I re-affirm the Government’s commitment to the national disability strategy and to its long-term goals and objectives which we will continue to pursue in the coming years in partnership with all the stakeholders. Our commitment in the areas of disability and mental health is consistent. Approximately €1.6 billion is spent annually by the health services on disability programmes, including residential, day care, respite, assessment and rehabilitation services.
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