Children have been left waiting up to seven years for speech and language therapy and other vital services, a Dublin mother has claimed.
As part of the HSE’s Progressing Disability Services (PDS) programme, introduced last year, young people up to the age of 18 can access local Children’s Disability Network Teams (CDNTs).
This includes speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists and social workers. Training sessions for parents, as well as home or school visits, are also provided.
However, Pamela Kenny, chairperson of Tallaght Parents Autism Support Group, said while the PDS programme “sounds good on paper”, it’s “a poor substitute” for one-to-one therapy.
“I personally know a number of people who have been waiting up to seven years for services in Tallaght,” she said.
“In the case of my own two children, we are somewhere between 41 months and seven years. I don’t count parent seminars or school visits as services.”
She told Independent.ie her son has been offered a six-week psychology group therapy course, starting tomorrow.
“It will be his first session since he was four or five – he’ll be 11 next week,” she said.
“The HSE have sent speech and language therapists into his school a number of times over the years to give recommendations, but not one-to-one therapy.”
Her daughter, now aged eight, hasn’t seen anyone since she was three years old.
“Her assessments were so out of date for speech and language therapy and psychology, they had to repeat them before Christmas,” she said.
“In theory, PDS sounds good for families with more than one child with a disability, but the problem is they are not offering a sufficient service.
“Training seminars for parents should be an add-on to one-to-one therapy. We’re not therapists and the HSE needs to stop putting more pressure on already stretched parents.”
Children’s rights solicitor Gareth Noble, a partner in law firm KOD Lyons, recently claimed on Twitter that a four-year-old Dublin girl, who had been assessed as needing speech and language therapy, had been given an expected appointment date of February 2024 by the HSE.
“How can that be meeting her needs?” he tweeted.
In a statement, the HSE said it was committed to delivering “efficient, high-quality therapy services to all eligible users”.
It revealed 167,208 patients were seen by community speech and language therapy services in 2020, with the figure rising to 205,214 last year.
It said January 2022 had seen a 27pc reduction in speech and therapy waiting lists compared with the previous year.
“The HSE recognises the need to address waiting lists for services and this is reflected in our commitment to developing the provision of community services,” they said.
“Community based care is currently undergoing substantial reform. This will involve a significant restructuring in how services are currently delivered and will ensure care is provided in an equitable, efficient and integrated way through Community Healthcare Networks.
“As we develop these teams, we will naturally build the capacity of the primary care sector, recruiting around 2,000 additional frontline staff across a range of disciplines, including speech and language therapy, nurses, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and other healthcare professionals.
“Children with complex needs associated with a disability will access supports from their local Children’s Disability Network Team.”
The HSE added that Covid-19 had posed “significant challenges” for many service areas, including speech therapy, which had “unavoidable negative impacts” on waiting lists.