Summer special needs education programme hits another problem over allocation of health staff
The Government’s proposed summer education programme for more than 10,000 children with special educational needs cannot be delivered in full until issues over the availability of health and social care professionals (HSCPs) are quickly resolved, according to Fórsa.
Under the education department’s plan announced on Friday (12th June), HSCPs have been tasked with ‘guiding and directing’ some 2,000 special needs assistants (SNAs) temporarily reallocated to the HSE.
But Fórsa, which represents the health professionals, says the HSE does not have enough staff to fulfil this new and additional role. The union is to meet HSE management on the issue this week.
Under the education department’s plan announced on Friday HSCPs have been tasked with guiding and directing some 2,000 SNAs temporarily reallocated to the HSE, but the national health body does not have enough staff to fulfil this new and additional role.
The head of Fórsa’s Health and Welfare Division, Éamonn Donnelly, said HSCPs wanted to play their part in ensuring that children with special needs, and their parents, get a service over the summer. But he said there was no spare capacity available in the health service for the guidance and supervision of SNAs.
“Fórsa fully supports efforts to provide enhanced services to children with special needs over the summer. The problem is that health and social care professionals are fully engaged on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the anticipated and much-needed reactivation of normal health services. Even before the coronavirus crisis, most of these professional groups were already understaffed because of recruitment and retention problems,” he said.
The Sláintecare report identified a shortfall of 1,400 HSCPs across the health services, while the Public Service Pay Commission found that they were experiencing the most acute staff retention problems of any health group apart from consultants.
Fórsa fully supports these efforts but the problem is that health and social care professionals are fully engaged on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the anticipated and much-needed reactivation of normal health services.
Mr Donnelly said he had asked HSE management to give details of how additional capacity could be put in place. “One of two things will occur unless this happens. Either the summer education programme will fall short of what’s been promised, or the much-needed reboot of normal health service delivery will suffer,” he said.
Fórsa points out that many HSCP grades are subject to statutory regulation, with staff vulnerable to ‘fitness to practise’ proceedings if they are accused of professional shortcomings. “HSCPs will also need to be assured that they will not be stretched to the point that service quality is undermined as this could have serious implications for patients, clients and the professionals themselves,” said Mr Donnelly.
The HSCP category encompasses a range of professions including physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, social care and social work.