To ask the Minister for Health when the results action plan to reduce waiting times for assessing needs of children with disabilities will be realised; the factors that have contributed to a large number children waiting longer than six months for an assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Reply from Minister for Health James Reilly TD
Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005 was commenced on 1 June 2007 in respect of children aged under 5. In 2008, the then Government decided, in the light of financial circumstances, to defer further implementation of the Disability Act 2005 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.
Part 2 of the Disability Act, inter alia, provides for an assessment of the needs of eligible applicants occasioned by their disability to be commenced within three months of receipt of an application and completed within a further three months.
There has been a very significant rise in overall activity around the assessment process in recent years in respect of the children now encompassed by the process. The number of assessment reports received in 2012 was 3,505 which is over 400 applications more than in 2010. It is worth noting that in the period 2010-2012 over 8,200 reports were completed. While the HSE recognises that it faces significant challenges in respect of meeting the statutory time-frames which apply to the assessment of need process given the number and complexity of cases, it is endeavouring to address the issue from available resources.
While any delay in assessment or intervention for any child is not desirable, the assessment process under the Disability Act can take place in parallel with any intervention which is identified as necessary. The HSE has issued guidance to its staff that where there is a delay in the assessment process, this should not affect the delivery of necessary and appropriate interventions identified for a particular child.
In addition targeted action plans have been put in place since early 2011. Measures have included: prioritising assessments, holding additional clinics, contracting the private sector to conduct assessments and reconfiguring resources to target areas of greatest need. These plans are monitored on a monthly basis by the HSE centrally.
Following the publication of a report commissioned from the National Disability Authority by the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive, a major emphasis is being placed on reconfiguring disability services for children into geographically-based early-intervention and school-aged teams as part of the Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People Programme which is underway. The NDA report indicated that where integrated teams were operating, the assessment of need process ran more smoothly. It found that there was no one single solution to remove all of the challenges to operating a statutory assessment of need. A meeting involving the Department, the HSE and the NDA has been arranged for early June to discuss the Report further.