All €300,000 from autism fund spent in Reilly’s heartland
Minister approved funding for Beechpark Services because of waiting list problems
Beechpark Services, Woodford Business Park, Santry, Co. Dublin.
All the money so far provided from a funding boost for autism services announced by Minister for Health James Reilly last year has been spent on cutting waiting lists for children with the condition in his political heartland in north Dublin, newly released documents show.
Just €300,000 of the €3 million promised over three years by Dr Reilly in January 2012 has so far been allocated, all of it to north Dublin, according to the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Of the €1 million which was supposed to be provided last year, nothing was allocated. The €300,000 allocated this year is being used to fill five speech and language, psychology and occupational therapy posts at the HSE’s therapeutic unit for children with autism, Beechpark Services, in north Dublin. This is sufficient to take 60 to 70 children off its waiting list.
The Minister decided not to allocate the remaining €700,000 which was earmarked by the HSE for early intervention services for children with special needs throughout the country, pending the outcome of a review he ordered into spending on autism services generally.
A spokesman for Dr Reilly said he had approved funding for Beechpark Services in north Dublin because of specific problems with waiting lists in that area. The Minister was trying to increase funding for autism services and early intervention, he said.
While funding from the Department of Education for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) units continued to increase and extra staff had been provided, staffing in health services funded by the HSE for children with ASD had not grown in line with this. Some 25 ASD schools were supported by HSE clinical staff, he said, but 29 were not and there were “particular difficulties” north of the Liffey. “The Minister is trying to create a situation where those children who are most in need are dealt with.”
Responding to his decision, the senior HSE disability official expressed disappointment to colleagues in the Department of Health that Dr Reilly was funding only the north Dublin element of her proposal, the documents show.
Assistant national director for disability Dr Cate Hartigan said it was regrettable that the available funding could not be used to “promote equity and consistency across the country” by improving access to services for all children with a disability.
The review of services ordered by Dr Reilly in June 2012 after he expressed concerns over spending in the area hasn’t been completed. His spokesman said a report was still being worked on and would be finalised “in the near future”.
Dr Reilly’s announcement in January 2012 of an additional €3 million in funding for children with autism appears to have taken his own officials by surprise, the documents show. One told a colleague in an internal email that it was “news to me” while another referred to the matter as coming “out of the blue”.
The Minister has long been interested in the condition and was involved in setting up the Beechpark service as a member of the old Eastern Health Board. He has an adult son with autism, who was not a client of Beechpark.
He recently told the Dáil the service was based on the south side of Dublin but was to serve Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare. “I am not happy that we have unequal distribution of services and I have asked for this to be addressed,” he said.