The HSE service plan adversely affects children in special schools

Harry Kirwan enjoys school so much that less than two weeks after having double hip surgery last year, he got up early every morning and insisted on going inside.

Despite his dedication and determination, he doesn’t get the support he needs to fulfill his potential.

“He was screaming in pain, but there was no way he missed school,” his mother Paula said.

Harry has cerebral palsy and mild to moderate intellectual disability. In addition to the double hip surgery, he had a procedure to lengthen the tendons in his legs.

While using a wheelchair, Harry was able to get around the home on a trike, step using a walker, and stand when transferring to and from his chair. He can’t do that anymore.

A lack of physical therapy since the surgery contributed to this deterioration, his mother said, adding, “He has no strength in his legs and his knee is constantly bent.”

She is among hundreds of parents across the country complaining that special schools do not provide them with access to vital health and social care.

Many therapists were removed from schools with the advent of the health service’s Progressing Disability Services (PDS) plan. This took effect for Harry last summer, and his situation became more complicated.

He is assigned to be cared for by a service team in South Dublin, where he lives. His West Dublin school is outside the team’s catchment area and the school’s teams are unable to support him. This means they cannot get him in the condition he needs to support his post-operative physical development.

PDS was set up to reorganize and improve access to services for children and to fill areas where gaps previously existed. Children should have access to services based on their needs and not their geographic location. But parents and teachers in special schools say the introduction has coincided with a deterioration in services for children who depend on them.

Harry visits Scoil Mochua in Clondalkin. Her principal, Vivienne Wynne, said children across the country were affected by the PDS plans.

“There are fewer therapists on site and children find it harder to access what they need, as do teachers,” she said.

“When I started it was like a full service and students could access anything they needed. It was a holistic approach to her training and therapies that complemented each other.

“That has now diminished, affecting the school’s ability to serve students and their families in a holistic manner.

“I have a network of special education leaders and most of them would say that services across the board have negatively impacted their schools and their students since the emergence of PDS.”

Change is needed quickly to enable children to reach their full potential, Ms Wynne added.

Another mother, Samantha Buckmaster, said her child was also negatively impacted by the PDS plan. The child was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease in 2017 and spent 22 months in hospital, limiting his mobility.

“We should have had a chance to get my child walking again, but instead he became even more physically disabled because we don’t receive therapy. The orthopedist now thinks that my child can no longer walk,” she said.

HSE services fell short of families’ expectations and a spokesman said the implementation of PDS was “one of the most complex change programs undertaken in healthcare”.

A limited pool of qualified, specialized and experienced personnel also contributes to these questions, the spokesman added.

Funds are available to fill 136.3 positions and restore lost services at 104 schools. The HSE is working to speed up this process by running recruitment campaigns.

“The HSE apologizes to the families who have had poor experiences accessing care and information and will continue to work to make a difference, make changes and build a sustainable and better service for children,” the spokesman said.

The Department of Health said it and the HSE are keen to provide PDS and “a roadmap is being developed” to implement it. The HSE service plan adversely affects children in special schools

Fry Electronics Team

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