When will autism services get more than promises?
Analysis: even following the money has not yielded answers on autism spending
€300,000 in extra funding has been allocated for autism services this year, enough to fund five posts, though no one has yet been appointed. These inputs are being provided by the HSE’s Beechpark Services throughout north Dublin, an area that includes Minister for Health James Reilly’s constituency but is not congruent with it. Photograph: Eric Luke
As reported by The Irish Times on Monday, €1 million the Minister for Health promised last year for extra funding for autism services failed to materialise. Of the €1 million promised for this year, only €300,000 has been allocated, all of it to services in north Dublin. That’s enough to fund five posts, though no one has been appointed as yet.
These inputs are being provided by the HSE’s Beechpark Services throughout north Dublin, an area that includes Dr Reilly’s constituency but is not congruent with it.
HSE chief operating officer Laverne McGuinness emphatically asserted there was no “political interference” in its decision to provide €300,000 north of the Liffey this year.
Yet as the original article made clear, an internal HSE report recommended that €300,000 be spent on Dublin’s northside in 2012 and the same amount go to the southside and westside this year, so Dr Reilly’s original recommendation was in line with his officials’ advice.
Why were none of the promised funds delivered in 2012? If there were waiting lists anywhere, why weren’t they eased through the provision of the funds announced to fanfare at an autism conference in January of that year?
Are these what the troika refers to as “time-related savings” of the kind made in other areas.
Most of the €35 million promised for mental health and the €20 million for primary care teams in 2012 remained unspent at the end of the year, when the HSE turned in a €360 million loss. Now we find that promises made in the area of autism have not been fulfilled.
Dr Reilly has said there were “particular difficulties” with waiting lists north of the Liffey. So what do the documents obtained by The Irish Times under freedom of information say about this?
According to the HSE report prepared by the Minister, there were 138 children on the northside on Beechpark’s waiting list in December 2011. But there were also 127 children from the southside, 45 from the westside and 69 from an Early Service list. Some 13 classes on the northside were put on the waiting list compared to eight on the westside, five on the southside and two on a “Campus” list.
So the north Dublin lists were marginally worse than other areas covered by Beechpark, and sufficiently so to justify extra funding. Those in other areas also merit extra funding, yet no guarantee has been given that the second tranche of €300,000 will be provided – even in 2014.
The rest of the funding has been delayed while a review commissioned by Dr Reilly into early intervention services is carried out. This area has been the subject of numerous reviews and reports in recent years, yet one year on, no report has issued. Ms McGuinness said yesterday the “expectation” was that the balance of next year’s funding will be provided, a phrasing that doesn’t inspire confidence.