Disability services are being overlooked

 

Sir, – With high levels of community transmission and new variants of Covid-19 in circulation, infection levels in disability services are unfortunately much higher in this third wave of the pandemic. For instance, there were 30 outbreaks in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) for people with disabilities in the first week of January, and 54 outbreaks in the second week.

However, in spite of being listed under the first priority grouping in the Government’s National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy, a plan has not yet been put in place to vaccinate staff working in disability LTCFs. This includes staff working directly with Covid-positive residents. While vaccination for residents over the age of 65 is under way, the vaccination of the many residents under 65 in LTCFs for people with disabilities is not taking place in this phase.

Disability day services, as an essential service, remain open; and people with disabilities continue to receive essential residential supports – be that in their own home, in community homes or in more congregated settings. We are committed to the continuation of these services.

The risks for people with disabilities and those supporting them are clear. In day services, whilst all other sectors of community are reducing contacts, people with disabilities are supported by staff members; and then return home to the family home, where many live with family members who are themselves elderly or have health vulnerabilities.

In all forms of residential disability supports the person with a disability is supported by staff members who come into their home – for some providing intimate personal care and for some support with the essential activities of daily living.

With high levels of community infection, the risks of passing on the virus are increased, and this is now apparent in the higher positive cases identified in disability services.

There is a fear that people with disabilities, and those that support them, have been left behind in the vaccination programme.

Given the risks present in both day and residential services, we are engaging with all key stakeholders and calling for the urgent development, agreement, communication and rollout of a comprehensive plan for the vaccination of people with disabilities of all ages using these services; the staff members supporting them; and the family carers whose role makes them a frontline key worker. The first priority must be for a planned vaccination of all staff working in LTCFs – in line with the existing Government strategy; and for the inclusion of residents of all ages in these settings. Disability services will support the rollout of vaccination (subject to appropriate clinical oversight) and can make locations and skilled vaccination staff available. – Yours, etc,

SEAN ABBOTT,

Chairman,

National Federation

of Voluntary Service

Providers;

ROSEMARY KEOGH,

Chairwoman,

National Disability

Services Association;

JOHN DOLAN,

Chief Executive,

Disability Federation

of Ireland, Dublin 8.