Steep decline in HSE child needs assessments this year


The number of children’s needs assessments (AONs) has fallen dramatically this year after the HSE was caught ‘cutting off’ by a High Court case.

In March, a key decision by Ms. Judge Siobhán Phelan found that the process for conducting an AON did not meet the requirements of the Disability Act.

An AON is performed on a child suspected of having a disability, including autism. In many cases, an AON is required before a child can access support and resources. Long public waiting lists can mean that children have to wait years for an assessment.

In 2020, the HSE sought to reduce waiting lists by introducing a new protocol that limited the time spent on a preliminary assessment to 90 minutes. The High Court found that this was a breach of the Disability Act,

Since the judgment, the HSE has been unable to complete assessments it had begun under the old protocol. This has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of AON reports completed by the HSE between April and June.

Figures presented to David Cullinane, Sinn Féin’s health spokesman, show that the HSE completed just 455 AON reports in the second quarter of this year. This is a decrease from the 1,268 reports completed in the same period in 2021.

In the first six months of 2021, the HSE completed almost 4,000 AON reports. By the end of June this year, there were 2,174. Most of these were conducted prior to the court verdict.

As a result, the number of children whose AON notification is overdue has also increased. As of the end of 2021, there were a total of 1,986 children nationwide whose AON reports were overdue. At the end of the first half of 2022, there were 2,531.

In reply to Mr Cullinane, the HSE warned that the number of children whose AONs are overdue will increase as it deals with the consequences of the High Court ruling.

But Mr. Cullinane told him Irish Independent: “With these 90-minute pre-estimates, the HSE has saved on the needs assessment at the top. They were caught in court, it was found that they broke the law. And now they have made a bad situation worse because now they have to offer a new AON to children who have been offered preliminary ratings.

“In the absence of a clear plan for how the HSE will conduct the assessments, we are seeing a decrease in the number of assessments being conducted… and an increase in waiting times.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE said a process for a revised approach to AONs would be implemented in the coming weeks.

“The HSE is working with a wide range of stakeholders including families, providers, staff, representative bodies and legal opinions to develop this clinical guideline to ensure it meets the requirements of the law and also protects the obligation to provide interventions” , she said.

“Until these guidelines were finalized, physicians were advised to use their clinical judgment to determine the level and type of evaluation required.”

It added that it is reviewing records of children assessed under the old protocol to “determine what additional assessments are needed to meet the requirements of the law.” Steep decline in HSE child needs assessments this year

Fry Electronics Team

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