A group of Donegal parents gathered in Letterkenny today to protest what they described as a lack of Health Service Executive services and long waiting lists for children with special needs.
Cuts to these services, “are picking on the most vulnerable in society, really,” Katy McCafferty of Letterkenny said.
The Letterkenny protest, held at the gates of St. Conal’s, was one of a number of protests held in towns and cities around the country today to focus attention on the issue.
Sinead McLaughlin of Ballybofey, who organised today’s protest in Letterkenny, said the group was calling attention to the lack of services and waiting lists for assessments for children with disabilities of all kinds.
She said some parents opt to go privately for assessments for their children because of long waiting lists, paying as much as €800 for a private assessment.
“They say early intervention is key, but it is not happening,” Sinead said.
Parents at the protest said they were disappointed at the size of the local turnout, but said they understood the demands on family carers. There are 10,000 registered carers in Donegal.
“We understand the difficulty that all parents in our situation face,” one of the parents at the Letterkenny protest said.
“That is part of the problem,” Katy said. “You’re a carer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Carers are under an extreme amount of pressure.”
Mick and Glenda Ayres of Ballybofey were among those at the protest this morning. “If it wasn’t for the local support from other families in similar situations, it would be a very lonely road to go down on your own,” Mick said. “Parents often feel very, very alone when dealing with the system.”
In a statement issued this afternoon, an HSE spokesperson said they acknowledge there are waiting lists for children to access services in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and autism services across the Community Healthcare Organisation Area 1, which covers the counties of Donegal, Cavan, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo.
"The HSE wishes to reassure patients and their families that they are continually striving to address this issue," the spokesperson said. They said difficulties in filling positions of child and adolescent mental health consultants and non-consultant specialists has presented challenges and said, "We wish to reassure the public that this matter is a key priority and there is a commitment to a robust recruitment process" to attract the required specialists to work in the services.
See Thursday’s Donegal Democrat for more.