“Absolutely everything” is wrong with Meath’s disability services

Eoin Ryan

“There was no theme in the night. The theme was that everything was wrong.”

That was Minister for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte’s summary of Meath’s forum on disability services in the Pillo Hotel, Ashbourne.

This is the third such forum done by Minister Rabbitte, HSE disability expert Ann Bourke, and HSE Psychology manager Michael Byrne, with a similar forum taking place in Cork and Crumlin.

“Cork was about special schools, Crumlin was primarily about interventions, where here it was absolutely everything,” Rabbitte said.

This is for young children, adolescents and adult disability services where there is no one specific section having issues but instead every part of the sector is unable to deal with Meath’s growing population.

“There seems to be a very wide breadth of issues from early years, school age, adult services, there seems to be a huge gap.”

“It’s not following the number of people here obviously”

She noted how Meath is treated as  “just a commuter belt to Dublin” with funding for services and amenities being lower than what is necessary.

Minister of Justice Helen McEntee said that, despite the improvements she has seen in a variety of other areas “This is unfortunately one issue we haven’t” seen progress in. 

Even the basic requirements are unavailable for adults with disabilities, notably in respite care, when someone else takes care of the person you care for, to allow for a break

Adults with disabilities “don’t have enough tea time respite in Meath,” Rabbitte said on the lack of amenities in Meath. “That’s the very basics and it’s not here.” This only puts an added strain on families caring for a disabled relative.

A local resident voiced her concern that said there has been no paediatrician in Dunshaughlin for children throughout her son’s life, “a service he should have,” she said at the forum. When searching for an alternative she was told to “go private or go AnE,” as the services her son requires are unavailable in the area.  After years of demands, she was then told by a member of the HSE “sure he’s almost 18,” and he can wait 3 years for a paediatrician catered towards adult disabilities in Dunshaughlin.

The lack of sibling support was also brought, as one parent noted how one of her children suffered from anxiety and can not bring up her own issues as the autistic child becomes the family’s centre of attention. Siblings have to cope with growing up with an autistic sibling but are not given any guidance or support in doing so.

For those in rural areas, there is no contract available to deliver nappies and other equipment for those with disabilities. This is especially problematic for those unable to travel on a regular basis due to their disability and living outside of towns with villages with much needed supplies to cope with issues caused by their disability.

A parent with two autistic children, said there is not nearly enough resources available in the county to support her children. Her son has been on a HSE waiting list for 30 months with no support in the meantime. Her daughter, who has an eating disorder, “got in CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service) very quickly, but what about it.” She says the support she gets in CAMHS is not nearly enough for those with eating disorders and that “She’s only put on a weighing scale every week”

It was also mentioned there are no psychologists available in CAMHS for the Meath area with only medication available for those requiring therapy. Despite the fact that her “son does not need medication, he needs someone to talk to,” private sessions range from €50 to 1€20 an hour, making it an impossible option for many struggling to make ends meet. This is especially an issue for those with autism as they are more likely to have mental health issues according to Mr Adam Harris, founder of the autism advocacy organisation As I Am. This is an issue throughout Ireland, however, and he said the current lack of access to mental health services in Ireland for young people with autism is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

It was also widely accepted that certain aspects of disability support are either inefficient or flawed.

One such parent with this mindset had to wait 6 months for a wheelchair which the child grew out of by the time it arrived. She questioned why she could not take a pre-owned wheelchair instead and why there was such strict regulation on recycling equipment in Meath when other counties do not. She also mentioned that it took 2 years since the leg injury before she saw a physiotherapist and extra physiotherapy was needed due to the long delay.

Several residents at the forum mentioned how staff said they were overburdened with calls and “500 emails a day” to explain why they are unable to answer queries. A member of the forum said “There’s no one answering the phones.” 

“Why has nothing happened”

Despite how overburdened the system is in Meath, residents can not search for support in different counties as services in one county can not be used by a resident residing in a different area no matter what the circumstances are.

Meath has seen a continuous growth in population but have not seen a similar growth  in health and disability services to cope with these new residents. It is also apparent from parents who have been demanding better facilities for over a decade that this is not just a recent issue but one with issues over several years which has seen no improvements and has only got worse.

“It appears to me that the population is growing in Meath and the funding to follow isn’t matching the growth in population.” Anne Rabbitte

A large part of this deadlock is the overwhelming amount of vacancies in the HSE within Meath. Parents called for an increase in the number of trainees and a greater amount of incentives for graduates to work with the HSE. It was revealed to TD Darren O’Rourke that one in four posts in Meath are vacant for various reasons, meaning that an already underfunded sector is running at three quarters capacity.

Cllr. Gillian O’Toole  said that disability services workers are leaving due to being overburdened and the lack of support they receive from the HSE. This was especially prevalent when restrictions were in place as several HSE staff said they were burnt out and constantly working overtime. There were mentions of the work culture being a contributing issue and that “The culture of the HSE has to change” to decrease the number of staff leaving and making it more inviting for potential employees.

Damien O’Reilly says it is clear “There is a management issue” in regards to the meath and changes should be made in terms of the structure of disability services in the county.

A parent said they were  “just happy you came” to the panel after saying she has been waiting years for someone in government to listen to their pleas and make a change. Other members were unsure if this forum could help, however, as many have been going to similar forums for years to no avail. One such parent questioned “Why has nothing happened” despite the amount of complaints over the past several years.

A Resident described how they have gone to these meetings for 11 years and are now “sick of going to these meetings.”

Several others mention they have been demanding support for over a decade with nothing to show for it. 

Members of the audience mentioned that the Chief Officer of the HSE should have been a member of the panel as he ultimately makes the decisions 

TD Damien English notes how “It’s nearly every family saying the same thing” and expressed how “It is disappointing the HSE don’t attend” these forums.

“I know where my child should be… but I shouldn’t have to fight for it,” a resident said, describing her struggle to get support for her child. 

Another exhausted parent said “We shouldn’t have to be based on luck” and how “My child has to have a childhood,” but the lack of disability services is greatly hindering this.

To fix the current vacancies regarding disability services in Meath, using international recruitment and incentives has been looked at as an option. 

Except for this, however, there is little in the way of support for those in disability services for the foreseeable future.

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