Speech by Mr Tim O’Malley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, on the Occasion of his Opening St Michael’s House 50th Anniversary Celebratory Conference “Facing the Future, The Challenge of Developing Innovative Person Centred Services” co-hosted by the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies

Clontarf Castle Hotel, Wednesday 30th November, 2005 and Thursday 1st December, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to say how pleased I am to have been invited here today to open St. Michael’s House 50th Anniversary Celebratory Conference “Facing the Future, The Challenge of Developing Innovative Person Centred Services” which is co-hosted by St Michael’s House and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies.

As most of you will know, St. Michael’s House began when a small classified ad was placed in a newspaper in June, 1955 by Mrs. Patricia Farrell whose son Brian had Down Syndrome. Mrs Farrell had been looking for a school place for Brian and discovered that the only option available at the time was institutionalised residential care. This ad led to the establishment of a small day school for pupils with a learning difficulty which formed the basis for St. Michael’s House as we know it to-day.

As the age profile of those attending the school changed it became apparent that there was a need for more diverse services in order to provide a continuum of service that reflects the life long supports required by people with an intellectual disability.

I wish to thank all those who have been involved over the last 50 years in providing a service at St. Michael’s House, for without their help, dedication and commitment St. Michael’s House would not hold the position it does in the community to-day.

I wish to also thank the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies for the work they have carried out in the area of intellectual disabilities. Their philosophy has been founded on respect for the dignity of the person.

This has manifested itself in the Federation’s promotion of equality of opportunities for persons in their care through the provision, maintenance and development of appropriate high quality services.

The philosophy which has underpinned the planning and delivery of services to people with disabilities is that people with disabilities should be given the opportunity to live as full a life as possible and to live with their families, and as part of their communities, for as long as possible.

Factors which have influenced current policy include the Health Strategy -–”Quality and Fairness” which was published in November 2001 and Government policy in relation to mainstreaming of services for people with disabilities.

One of the principles which is included in the Health Strategy is to ensure that health services are people centred. It is also the approach which is increasingly being taken by service providers. Mission statements throughout the health system contain phrases such as person focused, people centred etc

However, responding to each individual’s needs and priorities is a major challenge for both the Government in trying to obtain the necessary resources and the service providers who must operate within tight budgets and limited resources.

It is accepted that considerable creativity and flexibility is required to successfully support people to achieve their desired outcomes, especially outcomes relating to living arrangements and relationships. In developing a person centred service the service providers have to provide, among other services, support to the client in choosing where and with whom they will live, with developing intimate relationships and in helping them to exercise their rights. These matters are challenges for both the client and the service provider.

If we are to pay more than lip service to the principle of “person centred services”, we need to look very hard at the way in which we plan and deliver services. It is no longer acceptable that individuals are expected to fit into the “system”. The “system” therefore, must change if it is to truly respond and meet the needs of those who require its support.

I am not underestimating the difficulties which responding to this challenge would place on all of us. However, I do believe that if we are willing to take an honest and critical look at how the services, as currently structured, could be made more responsive to individual needs, we will find many situations where implementation is not dependent on resources, but on changes in attitudes and practices.

In addition, given the level of current expenditure on these services and personnel, it is crucial that, as a first step, we clearly identify resources from existing funding with which to underpin this process. Our first reaction should not be that we cannot do anything until we get additional funding or personnel. It should be to demonstrate clearly what we can do and how, with some additional assistance, we could build on that.

As you are aware the Disability Act, 2005 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 place very specific statutory responsibilities on the health services.

The commitment to provide a multi-annual Investment Programme for Disability Support Services gives recognition to the need to build capacity in the health services to deliver on these new legal obligations.

Significantly the Government has decided on a fundamentally different approach to that which normally applies in relation to current revenue funding for high priority disability support services. A multi-annual funding package for current expenditure on these services, with a total cumulative value of almost €600m, has been agreed with the Minister for Finance. This is the first time that Government has adopted this approach in the case of spending on services.

In all, a special disability multi-annual funding package with a total cumulative revenue and capital value close to €900m has been put in place by the Government for the period 2006 to 2009.

While I am aware that the provisions contained in the Disability Act 2005 do not meet the expectations of the disability sector as a whole, the Act provides, for the first time, a very specific framework which will support the planning and delivery of disability specific support services.

Together with the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, it changes not just the manner in which services are delivered, but also places very specific obligations on the health and education services.

These new pieces of legislation have far-reaching implications for the health services, in terms of how they are organised in the future. In particular, they require a re-examination of how services are prioritised.

I would ask all here present to work with the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science and other relevant Government Departments and agencies and the HSE to ensure that the legislative measures now in place can be implemented in a manner which brings optimum benefit to people with disabilities, their families and carers.

I would like to congratulate St Michael’s House on their being awarded in 2005 a prestigious international accreditation by the Council on Quality and Leadership.

I understand that the accreditation was awarded for two years and that only a few organisations have ever achieved this level of accreditation on their first application. Congratulations.

In conclusion, I would like to thank St. Michael’s House, the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies and all those who helped in the organisation of this conference. I wish all here present a most informative and enjoyable conference.