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Councillor Ann Norton

Crusaders’ experience knocks HSE plan

A new HSE plan to restructure children’s disability services has been challenged by the head of a local therapy centre, as the number of children with special needs receiving treatment almost doubled to 400 in the last 12 months.

The HSE is planning to roll-out early intervention teams to all parts of the country for children with special needs, on the basis that it has proven successful in areas like the Mid-West.

It insists its new strategy is based on recommendations in the Report of the National Reference Group on Multidisciplinary Services for Children Aged Five to 18 Years.

The Clare Champion submitted a number of queries to the national HSE, which hadn’t been responded to at the time of going to press.

Clare Crusaders’ Clinic managing director, Ann Norton, has claimed this strategy flies in the face of growing waiting lists and the fact that the number of Clare children with special needs attending the centre has jumped from 240 to 400 in the last year.

Ms Norton, who was recently elected as a county councillor, also revealed the clinic is now getting referral requests from parents of children with special needs living over 150 miles away.
“I am now getting phonecalls from parents living in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Louth because they have heard of the service the clinic is providing. They want to know can they travel to the clinic with their children.

“We would not need to be out begging for €250,000 a year to run the clinic if there was a proper service for children. It is a hard task in a recession but we have no choice but to do it. Otherwise, children would not be able to access basic services, such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.

“The money we are raising is relatively small for what we are providing. I couldn’t expand the clinic any more. If we expanded, we wouldn’t be able to continue.

“Clare Crusaders wouldn’t be in existence if there was a proper service in this county,” she explained.To think the HSE are going to roll this across the country is the biggest joke ever. Clare Crusaders is nearly hitting 400 children for speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, which are the basic services for children,” she said.

“Whatever chance we have of providing Clare children with basic services, it wouldn’t be viable if we expanded. Anyone can come down and look at our pilot programme, it is self-funded and is working.”

Ms Norton’s daughter, Nicole, who has cerebral palsy and other special needs, requires regular occupational and physiotherapy. Due to a lack of adequate staffing, she estimates Nicole may have had one or two physiotherapy public appointments in the last seven months. She said the last time she had contact with the local speech and language service was last November and that consisted of a phonecall to establish how Nicole was doing but there wasn’t any therapy provided.

Figures released in response to a Dáil question from Deputy Colm Keaveney revealed early intervention teams (EITs) for children with disabilities in the Mid-West have double the national caseload.
There are 12 EITs providing disability services for 2,764 children in the Mid-West, which is an average of 230 children – twice the national average case load per team.

The new restructuring is outlined in the HSE Bulletin June 2014 Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People.

It states there is a wide variation in the services available for children with special needs in different parts of the country and for different categories.

“The HSE need a more equitable and consistent way to provide services for children with disabilities and their families and must work together to achieve the greatest possible benefit within our resources. Health services in some areas, such as the Mid-West, North-East and West of the country, had already come together a few years ago and changed to provide unified services,” the bulletin states.

The bulletin also provided comments from parents with children attending the Limerick Early Intervention Service, where there are now teams that each provide services for all children within a network area.

“My child has benefited enormously from the services he has received from the Early Intervention Centre, which included physiotherapy, early intervention and speech and language therapy. It’s great that a team is available and knows your situation before any session so that you don’t spend more time explaining everything again. Everything happened very quickly and that was a relief,” it states.

By Dan Danaher

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