Principal slams removal of therapists from schools

“As a direct result of insufficient nursing capacity, one pupil has not attended school since the mid term break,” principal Anne Hartnett said.
Principal slams removal of therapists from schools

Under the HSE’s Progressing Disability Services (PDS) plan, many therapists, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, were removed from schools across Cork and Ireland earlier this year, including St Paul’s Special School in Montenotte.

The principal of a special school in Cork has criticised the removal of therapists from special schools across Ireland, and the delays in reinstating them.

Under the HSE’s Progressing Disability Services (PDS) plan, many therapists, including occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, were removed from schools across Cork and Ireland earlier this year, including St Paul’s Special School in Montenotte.

The children in need of services were referred to Children’s Disability Network Teams (CDNTs), the aim of which is to provide multidisciplinary therapy services to children in need in their communities and local areas.

However, the move to remove therapists from special schools was met with a backlash from parents of children with additional needs who felt the support in schools was a vital resource.

While Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte planned to return therapists to special schools across Ireland in September, St Paul’s Special School in Montenotte, like many across Cork and Ireland, are still waiting for that to happen.

St Paul’s caters for 97 children between the ages of four and 18 - 49 of these students have a moderate intellectual disability while 48 pupils have either a severe or profound intellectual disability.

Speaking to The Echo, principal Anne Hartnett explained the school requires four physiotherapists, four occupational therapists (OT), four speech and language therapists (SLT) and two full-time nursing posts for those with profound or severe intellectual disabilities alone.

“Most of the pupils have additional needs and many have complex medical needs,” she said.

“We have 1.3 nursing posts and, despite consistently requesting an additional nursing post, I was told this week by the HSE disability services manager that the sanctioning of this post is not provided through the HSE disability services.

“Neither is it sanctioned by the Department of Education.

“As a direct result of insufficient nursing capacity, one pupil has not attended school since the mid term break,” Ms Hartnett revealed.

“The service currently provided by the PDS is severely impacting every single child in this school.

“We have not had one full time physio, OT or SLT since PDS began.

“This has affected the basic life skills such as communication and mobility of our pupils and all pupils in special schools.

“The members of the Children's Disability Network are outstanding but they are left incredibly short staffed in every department,” Ms Hartnett stated further.

“PDS has not worked despite the best efforts of the teams involved. They, like the children and their families, have been severely short changed.” 

The Echo revealed in recent weeks that thousands of children are on waiting lists for CDNTs in the Cork/Kerry region, and that these teams are dealing with complaints due to a lack of resources.

Information obtained from the HSE shows that 2,257 children were on CDNT waiting lists in Cork/Kerry at the end of September this year.

More than 1,400 of these children had been waiting for over a year.

Meanwhile, the staff vacancy rate for CDNTs across Cork/Kerry stood at 18 percent at the end of August this year.

A spokesperson for Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said:

“The Community Disability Network Teams (CDNTs) in the Cork region and nationally have a high number of vacancies due to the challenges in recruiting therapy staff of all disciplines.

“This impacts on availability of services and regrettably leads to delay in access for children.” The Department of Health was contacted for comment.

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