02/10/08 - DFI Pre Budget Launch

October 2 2008


John Dolan

At the highest level in Government we are regarded as working in partnership with the State to deliver the National Disability Strategy, yet the continued daily experience for many organisations is of a growing gap and deteriorating relationships with the HSE. Allied to that our organisations have core underfunding issues which were set to be addressed going back a decade with the establishment of the Working Group on Funding Physical and Sensory Disability Organisations in 2000 by the Department of Health and Children and there have been other commitments before and since.

It now appears that due to the HSE cutbacks we have lost what was a modest amount of €5m allocated this year to address funding deficits for health related services provided by voluntary disability organisations. Not alone do we have one hand tied behind our backs due to underfunding but the little that was available this year has been withdrawn. The HSE has not succeeded in managing its budget so people with disabilities, that we are trying to deliver to, pay the price

I have just quoted from my address on this occasion last year. What a year it has been. On the 1st of July last we made a presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Health setting out the unacceptable behaviour of the HSE in diverting funding that had been allocated specifically for disability and mental health on top of unilaterally introducing a 1% cut to disability funding. Just two weeks ago the Comptroller and Auditor General published his Annual Report for 2007 where he set out that the disability and mental health areas contributed €53m to fund budget overruns in the hospital sector within the HSE.

In 2007 the Government allocated an extra €95m to disability and mental health and the HSE simply helped themselves to €53m of it. In 2008 the extra allocation was a more modest amount of €50m being the multi annual funding commitment and of that amount we are aware of €30m being rediverted to date.

Now to be clear, since January of last year, the HSE has taken €83m of funding that Government allocated for disability and mental health services. The effect of this is that thousands of disabled people are going without services even though the funding was provided. I want to make two points. Firstly, the provision of health and personal social services are key to the successful implementation of the NDS. Secondly, the Government backed up its commitment to prioritise disability by allocating the funding but it might now have to go and act as enforcer of that commitment.

Today we are calling on the HSE to put that money back into disability services, where the Oireachtas decided it should go. We have no intention of continuing to be a banker of last resort to the HSE because it cannot live within its allocation. Furthermore we are calling on the Minister for Health and Children to ensure that the wilfully redirected funding is returned to be used as the Oireachtas decided.

On Tuesday morning of this week we woke to the news that the Government had taken strong action to give confidence to the banking and commercial sector by undertaking to act as guarantor. We are calling on Government to take similar action and guarantee that disabled people get back the funding that it allocated to them but which the HSE unilaterally redirected to shore up its inability to stay within its allocated budget. Government does not own or run the Banks yet it considered it necessary to come to their aid in the interest of our country. It does own, and it is responsible for the running of, the HSE.

We are calling on the HSE to do the decent thing and return the funding to where it was allocated, we are calling on the Minister for Health to ensure that happens and lastly we are calling on Government to act as guarantor that this funding will be returned and that the HSE can never again misdirect allocated funding.

This Government has a major credibility issue if it cannot enforce the delivery of funding allocated for a specific purpose through a State agency particularly in the wake of their repeated commitments to the National Disability Strategy.

The NDS is not about people who have a lot wanting more. It is about people who have waited a long time to have their human dignity and human rights vindicated by the commitment of Government through the Disability Strategy.

In December 2004 the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen stated, I quote,

“My strong view, based on my experience as Minister for Health, is that the disability programme was for many years at the end of the queue for resources”,

and he went on to say that

“It did not benefit from the type of professional lobbying and support which the acute hospital and primary care programmes traditionally got from strong, organised interests in the health services”.

I hope our lobbying and advocating has improved as a sector, but we need the backing and ultimate guarantee of Government to ensure that voted money is returned and redeployed to where it was intended to go. It is not acceptable that the HSE gets away with this; they have taken service provision from disabled people. All of this has been going on prior to the current economic difficulties. It is also important to remember that many of our voluntary organisations are still fundraising to provide health services.

The Government has stated that disability is a priority issue. It must still remain a priority in these times and we remind Government that disabled people continue to lead vulnerable and precarious lives.

DFI and its member organisations want to work closely with Government to ensure the delivery of the Strategy and we have to work harder at improving our effectiveness and efficiency and this we will continue to do but Government cannot stand idly by and let the HSE get away with their ongoing pillaging of funding from disabled people.