Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke says chronic staff shortages across all grades and all teams of Meath’s four Children’s Disability Network Teams (CDNT) are devastating and cruel.
The Meath East TD made the comments in response to information released to him by the HSE confirming that just 58.54 whole time equivalent (WTE) positions are filled in Meath out of an approved 92.18. The response further indicates that 1,176 children in Co. Meath are waiting for an initial contact.
He told Meath Live, “The figures released to me by the HSE paint a very stark picture. Just 58.54 WTE positions are filled out of an approved 92.18. This means 33.54 essential staff posts (or 36%) are vacant. We know that this is across all teams and across all grades and disciplines. It is devastating. It is no reflection on those who work within the system, but it is clear that children are being failed. They are being let down. At best they are being delayed the opportunity to reach their full potential, at worst they are being denied that opportunity. They are being damaged by our broken system. It is cruel.
“Unfortunately, these figures will come as no surprise to parents/guardians or children trying to access services. Across our county there is a shortage of therapists – SLT, OT, psychology, physio – and capacity.
“While the shortages are across the board, they are not evenly distributed. CDNT5 has a vacancy rate of 21.3%, while CDNT2 has a vacancy rate of 49.2%.
“The response from the HSE acknowledges the significant recruitment challenges and outlines efforts to address them, but it is clear that not enough is being done. Where is the aggressive strategic plan?

“The response from the HSE comes shortly after the publication of the CDNT census for 2022. This showed that there was a 34% vacancy rate in 2022, up from 28% in 2021. Meath is currently at 36% vacancy, worse than the state average.

“There were over 707 vacancies across the 91 CDNTs nationally, as opposed to 524 in the previous census, with vacancy rates in Speech and Language Therapy (36%), Occupational Therapy (40%), and Psychology (39%) of particular concern, given their essential role in the delivery of legislative obligations for Assessment of Need under the Disability Act 2005.

“The review went on to report that there is a 35% vacancy rate among senior grades of staff (up from 29% in 2021).

“What both the census report and the HSE response to me confirm is the urgent need for the Minister for Health and the HSE to develop a strategic workforce plan to train, recruit and retain therapists for these posts. This needs to happen as a matter of urgency. It is essential for children in need.

“Sinn Féin have been continuously calling for this and it must be delivered.

“The disparity in pay and conditions for non-HSE staff must also be addressed.

“It is simply not acceptable that over a third of posts within CDNTs are vacant while parents and guardians are desperately seeking access to an assessment of need or therapeutic supports for their children.” ENDS