Minister says Cork schools that lost therapists will have them reinstated

The development follows a meeting last week between the Minister for Disabilities and the principals of Cork schools which had lost therapists since the introduction of the HSE’s Progressing Disabilities (PDS) programme
Minister says Cork schools that lost therapists will have them reinstated

Anne Rabbitte: ‘One of the principals said to me [the service] was ‘a rusty bronze’ at best.’

DISABILITIES Minister Anne Rabbitte has directed the HSE to reinstate all therapists lost to Cork special schools and to provide therapists to one Cork special school which never had them.

The development follows a meeting last week between the Minister for Disabilities and the principals of Cork schools which had lost therapists since the introduction of the HSE’s Progressing Disabilities (PDS) programme.

The minister also directed that Carrigaline Community Special School, a purpose-built special needs school which opened last year, and which has not had any therapists, be allocated them.

Ms Rabbitte told The Echo that she submitted on Friday, a request from the Department of Health to the HSE that 11 special schools in Cork have their therapists restored to pre-pandemic numbers, and that Carrigaline Community Special School be allocated therapists “representative of the need and number of children that attend” the school.

“The Taoiseach, along with Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath, are very clear that all therapists are to be reinstated to all Cork schools,” Ms Rabbitte said.

She added that the allocations would have to be validated by the HSE, a process the minister suggested could take “less than two months”.

She said she was working with the Cork schools to ensure that their requests were met and she acknowledged the services provided prior to PDS had not been optimal.

‘I want to reinstate what they had’

“One of the principals said to me it was ‘a rusty bronze’ at best, and I know that it wasn’t brilliant, but at the moment they have no service, so I want to reinstate what they had, at a minimum, that’s my commitment,” Ms Rabbitte said.

The minister’s meeting with Cork principals, which occurred last Monday in Limerick, came in the wake of a public forum in Cork last month which saw angry scenes as Ms Rabbitte met parents and teachers of children with disabilities.

At the Cork meeting, Ms Rabbitte was told by school principals that since the introduction of PDS up to 60 therapists, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, had been removed from Cork schools.

Ms Rabbitte told the meeting the HSE had given her a figure of 14.5 therapists (whole-time equivalents) removed from Cork schools, but she said she accepted that might not be an accurate figure.

The public meeting heard repeated calls for the scrapping of PDS, with parents claiming it had regressed service provision, as well as strong criticisms that no representative from the HSE attended.

A spokesperson for the HSE told The Echo that a representative was unavailable “due to short notice”.

Cork North Central TD and Fianna Fáil special education spokesperson Pádraig O’Sullivan said Ms Rabbitte had given a commitment to meeting stakeholders and to seeking a resolution, and she had now directed the reinstatement of all therapist posts to special Cork schools.

“This will take some time and I would have some concerns about the HSE’s capacity to fill the necessary posts,” Mr O’Sullivan cautioned.

“Nonetheless, I think the minister should be commended for listening and for acting accordingly.”

Michael McGrath, the public expenditure minister, sounded a similar note of caution, telling The Echo the issue was something the Cabinet subcommittee on health was actively working on.

He said he intended to support Ms Rabbitte with increased resources, as he had done in the past two budgets.

“But what I need to see is that those resources are translating into actual services on the ground for people that need them and I think that’s where we have work to do,” Mr McGrath said.

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