Last week I raised the appalling waiting list for local children in the Dáil. This is what I said:
There are 436 children awaiting physiotherapy appointments in County Galway, some of whom have been waiting 176 weeks for such appointments.
There are 95 children awaiting these appointments in County Roscommon.
On speech and language waiting lists, 971 children were awaiting initial assessment in County Galway at the end of January, with an average waiting time of six months, and 119 children in County Roscommon are awaiting initial assessment.
With regard to the waiting lists for occupational therapy, 103 children in County Roscommon have been awaiting assessment for up to 18 months. In County Galway, there are 384 children on that waiting list.
The waiting lists in the two counties were appalling even before Covid-19. In March 2020, the Galway-Roscommon autism spectrum disorder service had one child on its waiting list for intervention support for six years, with a further 54 children waiting four years for that intervention support. In fact, a total of 361 children were on that waiting list, not including 81 referrals. It was so chaotic in HSE West that it committed in March 2020 to reconfiguring the Galway-Roscommon autism service, which parents had been complaining about for years. It might have seemed that Covid-19 would provide the ideal opportunity for this reconfiguration to take place. Instead, those staff were sent to answer phones in contact tracing centres.
In September 2020, I highlighted the issue of staff in HSE West being redeployed to do contact tracing on the floor of the House. I raised the matter with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and tabled a Topical Issue matter on it to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, which was answered by the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. On each occasion, shoulders were shrugged and we just moved along. Throughout 2020, nothing was done, either for the children in question or on the reconfiguration. We had to wait until 11 October 2021 for the Galway-Roscommon service to be reconfigured and to become operational and until 10 January of this year for the same to happen in County Mayo. We should have started to see progress on foot of that but that did not happen.
We are now moving to the new progressing disability services national reconfiguration and I do not see any progress. The children’s disability network teams have been established. More than 200 staff have been configured into nine children’s disability network teams across HSE West but that reconfiguration, as I say, is still ongoing. Today, the HSE cannot say when children who have been referred to the expert service can expect to start receiving appointments.
So frustrated was I with this reconfiguration after reconfiguration that I sought a briefing from HSE West last December, which, it was promised, would take place in January but we did not get one. When we sought it again last month we were told we would get a briefing early this month. None has been held as of yet and we still do not know what is going on.
The difficulty is children are being let down as a result of this. For example, John, who is three years of age and has autism and an early developmental delay, was referred to the Roscommon early intervention service in June 2020. He has still not been seen 18 months later. That is not progression.
What is really frustrating is that, as bad and all as it was, and we had a lot of complaints about the service across Galway-Roscommon, the Roscommon early intervention service was excellent. People were proud of it and it was responsive. That service has been washed into the broader mass now and children are being left high and dry.