Disability service to impose €22 a night fee for respite
A 'grave' financial situation is forcing one of the country's biggest providers of disability services to impose charges for respite care and transport, despite getting over €1m in funding this year.
The Irish Independent has learned that the Daughters of Charity in Limerick is due to start charging €22 a night from next month for respite care provided to families who look after children and adults with a disability at home.
And adults who are taken to day centres by bus are also to be asked to pay €30 a week for transport for the first time.
It is also expected that the 'pocket money', ranging from €5 to €30 per week, which is paid to adults working in training centres, will be abolished.
The proposed charges are causing alarm to families and there are fears other providers will also follow the lead, with even tougher measures planned for next year.
A spokesman for the Daughters of Charity confirmed that the organisation, which also provides services in Dublin, has "issues with funding", which are being addressed. No charges have yet been imposed in its other locations.
The Limerick service, which caters to several hundred people, received more than €1m in funding from the Health Service Executive (HSE) this year.
The funding was to provide the services free to adults and children with disability -- but it is now more than €2m in the red.
It had a deficit of €1.5m last year and another €700,000 shortfall built up by August 2011. It has argued it has already tackled backroom costs, including shutting its staff canteen.
However, Deirdre Carroll, chief executive of Inclusion Ireland, the representative body for people with an intellectual disability, said she was very concerned that these essential frontline services were now being affected.
"It is essential that alternative, cost-effective ways of providing the same level of service are found," she added.
The majority of the funding that goes to disability providers is spent on staff wages, much of which are tied to public service rates of pay.
Avril Webster, a Limerick parent whose son Stephen uses the respite service, said she was very worried about the charges and pointed out many families were very dependent on a few nights' respite every month.
In a letter to parents and guardians Denis Cronin, the chief executive of the Daughters of Charity service, said other cost-saving measures had not been enough to counteract HSE budget reductions.
The charges are due to come into effect from November 1 and there could be worse on the way from January. The organisation said it could not subsidise transport of adults to the day centres from next year.
The HSE spends around €1.5bn on services for people with a disability annually.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has called for more accountability and transparency from providers receiving the funds. A review of the services, carried out by chairman of the steering group Laurence Crowley, and commissioned by the Department of Health, is been under way.
A spokesperson for Disability Minister Kathleen Lynch said she was meeting the regional director of operations for the HSE West to be briefed on the plans and possible options.