Friday 19 April 2019

Future of Deafhear services uncertain

Unclear as of yet if Deafhear services in Sligo are safe

Ciara Galvin

A spokesperson for a deaf and hard of hearing organisation has indicated that its Sligo service may be relocated.

After weeks of uncertainty and talk of the current services of Chime, formerly known as DeafHear, being relocated to Letterkenny, Brendan Lennon, head of advocacy at the organisation has said,

'It's fair to say we still have to have one location in CHO 1.'

CHO 1 is the formal name for the Sligo/Donegal area of the organisation which currently has two locations where services are available.

Chime (DeafHear) in Sligo provides specialist supports and services to deaf and hard of hearing people and their families.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion, Mr Lennon said the organisation is still trying to liaise with the HSE, which provides €227,882 of funding for the Sligo/Donegal area.

In a response to queries from Cllr Tom McSharry in relation to the uncertainty, CEO of the organisation Mark Byrne said the current cost to fund the area stands at €350,000.

He outlined that the organisation was not in a position to continue to fund the shortfall of €122,118, and added that they must 'operate the service within budget'.

Cllr McSharry told The Sligo Champion that there is 'huge concern' over whether the Sligo service will be retained.

Last month Cllr McSharry called on the CEO to give an 'absolute guarantee' that the Sligo service would not be moved.

Though there has been speculation that there are plans to move the Sligo service to Letterkenny, staff at the Sligo base in Abbeyville have not been made aware of any such plans.

In correspondence to Cllr McSharry, the CEO stated that the organisation was very committed to their clients in Sligo and 'propose to continue to provide a high level of service from our office in Letterkenny'.

Mr Lennon said the organisation's proposal to the HSE was for it to continue funding one location to operate Monday to Friday.

He added that the current uncertainty was 'very unfair on staff' and said he was not aware of any details of correspondence with staff.

Explaining the issues with funding and the need for a more streamlined service within the CHO 1 area,

Mr Lennon outlined that the core grants from the HSE were reduced in previous years but the organisation did not reduce services up until now.

"We have no option but to reduce," stated Lennon.

Asked if the service would be detrimentally impacted if moved to Letterkenny, the head of advocacy said he would argue that it would be 'an enhancement' of services.

"If the Sligo service is moved to Letterkenny it will still be offering services in Sligo two days per week but staff will be based out of Letterkenny.

There is no question of anyone [service users] travelling to Letterkenny."

In response to this, Cllr McSharry said he will be seeking to get this in writing.

"It's very easy to pick up the phone and say it'll all be ok, but that's what was said before about cancer services," said Cllr McSharry.

Currently the Sligo service operates three days per week, on 1.6 staff until a staff member returns from maternity leave.

Asked if there was a possibility of bridging the shortfall in funding, Mr Lennon said there was 'zero chance or scope for increasing the HSE grant'.

He went on to explain that under the current arrangement, Chime is fully funded by the HSE but Chime is not allowed to 'plug services with fundraising'.

"We'd really welcome clear, cohesive guidance on how to bring things to a close," concluded Lennon.

Sligo Champion