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Disability rights charity warns of further ‘pandemic’ over loss of services

Inclusion Ireland’s chief executive said that services and support for people with a disability were already poor before the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dr Frank Conaty, acting chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Oireachtas TV/PA)

Dr Frank Conaty, acting chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Oireachtas TV/PA)

Dr Frank Conaty, acting chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Oireachtas TV/PA)

The head of Inclusion Ireland has warned of “another pandemic” as families caring for people with a disability are “emotionally, mentally and physically at the end of their capacity to cope”.

Enda Egan told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that the ongoing closure of services for people with disabilities will lead to a “revolving door” of emergency cases of carer burn-out.

Inclusion Ireland’s chief executive said that services and support for people with a disability were already poor before the coronavirus pandemic.

He told the committee: “Unfortunately, and quite sadly, for people with an intellectual disability, 56% felt that loneliness had become quite a significant issue for them.

“People are emotionally, mentally and physically at the end of their capacity to cope and I feel that there is another pandemic about to hit us and it is family carer burn-out.

“That will lead to a scenario where you will have a revolving door of emergency cases taking place and from speaking to some people there is evidence of this happening as we speak.

“Last week guidelines issued by the HSE, on respect the reopening of services, we would have some concerns in relation to some of those.

“The key point is that service providers must move quickly to reopen and do their utmost and not use the guidelines as a stumbling block for the reopening.”

Dr Frank Conaty, acting chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), said Covid-19 has “exposed inadequacies” of Ireland’s public policy.

He told the committee: “It is clear that Covid-19 has given rise to significant risks of discrimination and the undermining of rights for persons with disabilities, including the rights of older persons, many of whom have disabilities.

“While Covid-19 is a once-in-a-generation public health crisis, its impact should be seen in the continuum of how people with disabilities have been, and continue to be, treated in the design and delivery of public policy.

“The Covid response has exposed inadequacies of Ireland’s public policy in relation to the situation of people in congregated settings, including nursing homes; the disruption of supports and services for both people with disabilities and for family carers; the accessibility of information for people with disabilities and the lack of appropriate data that would allow for more responsive decision-making.”

Mark O’Connor, a community engagement manager at Inclusion Ireland, told the committee that some services may not reopen until September.

“In this HSE’s document, it clearly states that there will be reduced supports for people. That has a knock-on effect on families who may be trying to get back to work,” he added.

Sinn Fein’s Pauline Tully said it was “disturbing”, adding “they deserve better”.

People are emotionally, mentally and physically at the end of their capacity to copeEnda Egan, Inclusion Ireland

Dr Joanne McCarthy, head of policy and research at the Disability Federation of Ireland, said there are 400 families, including parents over the age of 80, caring for ageing people with intellectual disabilities.

John Dolan, chief executive of Disability Federation of Ireland, said that disability services are facing deficits of more than 40 million euro.

“Services and supports to people with disabilities were in a bad place before Covid-19 struck,” he added.

“The capacity to provide services and supports, in spite of the economy being fully recovered, was going in the wrong direction.

“While poverty was decreasing generally it remains high for people with disabilities. Services were already facing deficits of over 40 million euro.

“This year’s HSE Service Plan, pre-Covid-19, reduced disability funding to organisations by 1% as an ‘efficiency measure’.”

PA