Belfast Telegraph

Disabled 'targeted' in budget cuts

Vital residential and respite services are being slashed at one of the largest service providers for people with disabilities in the country following another one million euro budget cut.

St Michael's House has warned it will have to close a residential and a respite home, shut others for one day a month and withdraw allowances, subsidies and transport costs to meet targets.

More than 1,600 children and adults with an intellectual disability are cared for in its 170 day and residential centres across the Dublin area.

Patricia Doherty, chief executive, said the latest recent cut by the Health Service Executive (HSE) - which has been backdated to July 1 - will inevitably result in some service reductions.

"While we recognise that this will have an unavoidable impact on services, I want to assure you that we will make every effort to try and ensure that this will have the least possible impact on people with disabilities and their families," she said in a letter to parents and guardians.

"Not all cuts will apply to each individual or family."

The charity - which has lost 12.3 million euro in its budget since 2008 - claimed half a million was already being lost through pay and efficiencies needed under the Haddington Road pay agreement before the HSE suddenly cut an extra half a millon euro from its budget for 2013.

The organisation already has largest waiting list for residential care in the country, with 330 people on a priority list.

Of those, 52 families are described as being in very serious difficulty and 264 adults with an intellectual disability in its care still live with a parent over 70 years of age.

Drastic measures to save money include closing one residential home and a respite service, sending hundreds of service users in residential care home for nine hours one Sunday a month to save on double pay, and reducing staffing levels across the organisation.

Elsewhere a rent subsidy for children and adults in residential care will be stopped, hiking rents from 90 euro to almost 125 euro a week, while the trainee allowance to service users who attend training centres has been stopped.

Cuts will be also made in transport costs, there will be no new residential places or long term placement in respite services, and there will be reduced day service for school and training centre leavers.

The budget for St Michael's House, which peaked at 83 million euro in 2008, also enforces an HSE staff moratorium also meaning outgoing nurses and care staff are not being replaced.

Ms Doherty asked parents and families to lobby local politicians to highlight the seriousness of the situation and to get them to urge Health Minister James Reilly to reverse the cuts in the disability sector.

"The HSE has advised all health and social care services that no budget overspends will be tolerated," she added.

Sinn Fein spokesman on health, Caoimhghin O Caolain, also called on Mr Reilly to give assurances that services will be maintained and that the true budget provided for.

"St Michael's House provides an essential service not just for the 1,663 people with an intellectual disability who use the facility, but also to their families and the wider community," he said.

"Those directly accessing its services include some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

"Yet again we see them targeted for cuts. Yet again we see the absolute chaos caused by this government's failed policy of austerity and Minister Reilly's failure to deliver on promised savings elsewhere in the health budget.

"I am calling on Minister Reilly to intervene immediately in this case and to give assurances that adequate funding will be provided to secure services at St Michael's House."

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