Sunday 21 January 2018

Down Syndrome babies turned away as health funding crisis deepens

HSE chief Brendan Drumm at Leinster House where he and Health Minister Mary Harney appeared before a joint Oireachtas committee
HSE chief Brendan Drumm at Leinster House where he and Health Minister Mary Harney appeared before a joint Oireachtas committee

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Newborn babies with Down Syndrome are being turned away from a leading disability service because of a funding crisis.

Adults with an intellectual disability are also being left "homeless" and forced to stay in respite homes after the death of their parents.

The grim financial situation of St Michael's House -- which provides a range of community -based services for people with intellectual disabilities -- was highlighted as its annual report was launched yesterday.

Chairman Maurice Bracken said it has suffered a €2m reduction in funding from the Health Service Executive (HSE) since 2003, at a time when demand for its services is rising.

"We are experiencing a crisis -- on the one hand our waiting lists are increasing and on the other our funding is decreasing.

"Essentially we are in a position of not being able to provide services to parents of newly born babies with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities."


The services involve testing the severity of the condition and providing tailored programmes and physiotherapy.

He revealed: "We would receive approximately 25 referrals from maternity hospitals and 60 referrals from GPs and other community services each year. At the moment we simply cannot accept these referrals -- this is an appalling and unacceptable position for parents."

He said there were currently 16 adults and children with an intellectual disability who were "homeless" due mainly to the death of their parents.

They have been staying in respite accommodation instead and this has the knock-on effect of reducing breaks for families caring full-time for a relative with an intellectual disability.

"We have a further 240 parents over the age of 70 who are still looking after their son or daughter at home who could at any moment require an emergency residential place."

An estimated €200m allocated for disability and other services nationally is currently on hold until the Department of Finance allows the HSE to spend it.


If the situation does not improve St Michael's House will have to close its referral list for the first time in its history, he added.

Responding to the St Michael's House warning the HSE said it was still in discussions with the organisation about its 2008 allocation.

A spokesman said it receives "considerable funding" from the taxpayer including €79m last year and €83m in 2008.

It added that overall, voluntary organisations providing services for people with disabilities are receiving €1bn a year and it is necessary to ensure value for money, an approach supported by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

HSE assistant national director Tadhg O Brien said: "St Michael's House are being asked to worked with us in order to achieve these savings.

"The particular focus will be on areas such as travel expenses, advertising costs and staff absenteeism.

"We will be also asking non-statutory agencies to work together to combine their purchase of goods and services," he added.

Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday Health Minister Mary Harney said it may be necessary to review the wide range of organisations providing these services.

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