Speech by Minister of State Mr. Tim O´Malley TD at the launch of the Draft National Standards for Disability Services

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to have been asked here today by Ms Claire O´Connor, Director of the National Disability Authority, to open this conference to launch the draft National Standards for Disability Services.

The aim of the standards is to ensure that disability services in Ireland contribute to a measurable improvement in the quality of life of individuals receiving those services. I welcome this initiative which has been the product of a broad national consultation process involving persons with disabilities, their families and carers. Following this consultation process, the National Disability Authority and the Department of Health and Children are setting out together to develop national standards for health services for children and adults with disabilities, with the support and assistance of the Health Boards, the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the NDA´s Standards Advisory Committee.

Over 500 submissions were received giving people’s views on the standards and quality in services. These submissions were analysed and reviewed and have been developed into the present draft standards. The next step is to take on board the outcome of today’s conference.

I am conscious that elements of existing services would at present not meet all of the criteria contained in the standards. The challenge for us all over the coming years will be to move forward and to achieve the various goals contained in them. This process will undoubtedly have to be undertaken on a phased basis. When fully implemented, these standards will provide a benchmark for best practice in disability services in Ireland. Current thinking in the Department suggests that perhaps some 10% of service providers would be involved in the process in year 1 and that this figure would be expanded on an annual basis.

The Government is fully committed to providing funding for the maintenance and development of health services to people with disabilities. Since 1997, additional funding of over €340m has been allocated to the maintenance and development of services to persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism, while over €113m has been allocated to the maintenance and development of services to persons with a physical or sensory disability. These funds have been provided for new service developments, identified needs in existing services and the alleviation of core deficits in some voluntary sector agencies. Despite this very significant investment, demographic factors are contributing to growing waiting lists for residential services for people with an intellectual disability in particular, even though the numbers in receipt of services, including full time residential services continue to increase. The increased birth rate in the 1960s and 1970s has resulted in large numbers of young adults in their late 20s and early 30s requiring full-time residential services. The overall economic position in 2003 has had implications for all aspects of public investment. I regret that the level of funding achieved in recent years could not be maintained in 2003 but my Department will work closely with Health Boards and other service providers in relation to service provision this year.

I wish to thank everyone who contributed to the drafting of these standards, particularly people with disabilities, their families, carers, and service providers who shared their views on what they wanted to see in the standards. I hope that your participation today in the various workshops will result in constructive feedback on suggested changes and improvements to the standards. I believe that once they are finalised, these standards will provide organisations with an opportunity to ensure that the best possible services are provided to people with disabilities.

Thank you for your attendance here today and I wish you well in your deliberations.