More than 700 children with special needs on waiting lists
Promised early intervention teams have yet to materialise in Dublin
Fianna Fáil spokesman on mental health, disability and special needs Colm Keaveney obtained data showing hundreds of children with special needs are awaiting support. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
More than 700 children with special educational needs are on waiting lists in Dublin and Cork for early intervention supports from the HSE, new figures show.
The data, obtained by Fianna Fáil spokesman on mental health, disability and special needs Colm Keaveney under a parliamentary question, shows that in south Dublin alone 365 children are on waiting to see psychologists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers.
A further 143 children are on waiting lists in north Dublin, while 217 are on waiting lists in Cork.
The HSE has also confirmed that it has yet to set up Early Intervention Teams (EITs) in line with the ‘Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People’ programme in either Dublin or Cork, with the exception of the western part of Co Cork.
However, the HSE said all areas had “significant early Intervention services in place”, provided either directly by the HSE, or by voluntary service providers funded by the HSE.
In Dublin, these were serving 867 children, while in the Cork North and South combined they were serving 992 children.
Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White expressed particular concern at the extent of waiting lists in the capital, describing it as a “gaping hole in our frontline health services”.
She said: “Many families are forced to travel outside Dublin for assessment and support for their child, while others have no option but to seek expensive private treatment”.
The children involved had complex needs, including speech and language difficulties, emotional and mental health problems, and autism.
“It makes a mockery of the concept of ‘early intervention’ to force a child with special needs to wait for years for even a basic assessment of their needs,” she said.
“The longer these children are forced to wait, the harder it becomes to tackle their issues and give them the skills that they need to live happy and successful lives at home and in school.”
The HSE said it had begun the reconfiguration of children’s disability services into geographically-based EITs. The objective “is to provide one clear referral pathway for all children” aged up to 18 years, irrespective of their disability, where they live or the school they attend.
In 2014, the programme received an investment of €4m and the provision of 80 additional therapy staff, and a further €6m allocation was announced this year.
The HSE said it was also reviewing current practices in relation to how waiting lists are managed.