A Derry father whose son has severe learning disabilities has described the revelation that the Western Health and Social Care Trust (W.H.S.C.T.) has been underfunding learning disability services by £8 million per year as “totally disgusting.”
The man, who did not wish to be named, is his adult son’s sole carer and explained how the underfunding had impacted upon them.
“My son requires certain equipment because of the nature of physical and mental disabilities. Over the last 20 years I have had to beg, borrow and steal to make sure my son got the equipment, it’s been a nightmare.
“To be honest with you, I’ve always suspected that the W.H.S.C.T. has been underfunding learning disability services but I never thought it was to the tune of £8 million a year - I think what they have done is absolutely disgusting,” he said.
The underfunding was discovered in a report carried out by the Health and Social Care Board (H.S.C.B.) last year.
The findings of the report were then shared at a recent meeting between senior managers within the W.H.S.C.T. and parent carers groups and community organisations.
A public meeting was held to discuss the underfunding issue in the City Hotel last Tuesday evening.
Parents and carers of people with learning disabilities from right across the W.H.S.C.T. area attended that meeting.
The meeting was organised by the Western Adult Learning Disability Action Group (W.A.L.D.A.G.), which is a representative body for a range of disability groups.
The campaign has been supported by virtually every political party and newly elected Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle, Martin McGuinness, met with representatives on Wednesday morning and informed them that he would be requesting the incoming health minister to conduct a full investigation.
People Before Profit MLA for Foyle, Eamonn McCann, called on the W.H.S.C.T. to provide the families affected with a full and open explanation of why the underfuding was allowed to happen.
“If a public inquiry is needed to establish the facts, let’s have a public inquiry,” said Mr. McCann. “But this shouldn’t be necessary. The information the families need and are entitled to is held by the Trust and other public agencies. Let’s have it out in the open.”
SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan described the underfunding of learning disability services as a “scandal”.
“This huge and apparently historic underspend is nothing short of a scandal,” said Mr. Durkan.
“Funding should be fully restored without delay and a full independent investigation carried out into what happened here. People are angry and understandably so.”
A W.H.S.C.T. spokesperson told the ‘Journal’: “Over the past couple of years the extent of a deficit in investment in learning disability services in the W.H.S.C.T. has been confirmed by both Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (R.Q.I.A.) and the H.S.C.B.
“The deficit has been quantified as £8 million. Since this was confirmed the W.H.S.C.T. has worked with the commissioner of services at the H.S.C.B. to address this issue. The W.H.S.C.T. is pleased that an additional investment of £2.3 million has been received for this financial year, which will go some way to close this deficit.
“The W.H.S.C.T. had agreed to work in partnership with families, carers and advocate groups to develop plans to address the funding gaps and to ensure they are involved in service planning and delivery going forward.”