Media must hold health chiefs to account

 

Sir, – The Irish taxpayer funds the HSE with €17 billion annually and in return for this sum the HSE is entrusted with, among other things, providing disability services. Yet at the end of 2020, there were 21,000 children waiting for initial occupational therapy assessments, 16,000 waiting for initial speech and language assessments, and 48,000 people waiting for physiotherapy assessments.

These are appalling figures that should be highlighted daily by our media. Despite almost daily press conferences, I have never once heard a health journalist ask HSE chief Paul Reid or Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly why they are failing to provide basic services to children with special needs. Mr Reid is now tweeting vaccination numbers several times a day yet he evidently has nothing to say about the enormous and rocketing waiting lists for services for children with disabilities.

Oversight of the HSE resides ultimately with the Department of Health and the Minister for Health yet this department has never called out senior management in the HSE on the ongoing failure to provide disability services. Parents of children with special needs would be justified in asking whether the HSE’s prime reason for existence is to ensure the Department of Health and the Minister for Health avoid criticism for failure to deliver disability services.

The HSE’s decision to redeploy therapists for children with special needs to Covid work showed that the needs of children with special needs simply do not matter to senior management in the HSE. The Department of Health needs to remove responsibility for disability service provision from the HSE. If the Minister and the Department of Health are unwilling to provide services to children with disabilities then consideration needs to be given to setting up a separate department with exclusive responsibility for delivering disability services and with its own senior Minister.

We have heard a lot of lip service and words about “equality” from this Government. Unfortunately when it comes to putting in place services for children with disabilities to take their rightful place in society this Government has failed and failed miserably. An attitude that the provision of basic service is an act of charity for which recipients should somehow be grateful rather than a right seems to be endemic at a senior level in both the Department of Health and the HSE.

Children with disabilities are not charity cases, they are perfectly entitled to participate fully in society, and if senior HSE and Department of Health management are unwilling to provide the support to allow them to do so, they need to be removed.

Our media have a duty to start taking a far more robust position on this issue and start regularly questioning both the HSE chief executive and Minister for Health on waiting lists for disability services. We need more than simply regurgitating or retweeting the latest utterances of the Minister for Health, the HSE chief or the chief medical officer. – Yours, etc,

RUARY MARTIN,

Sandyford,

Dublin 18.