Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has vowed to closely monitor the Western Trust’s commitment to address an £8m a year funding deficit for learning disability services.
The Minister was speaking after meeting with representatives of the Western Learning Disability Action Group, which was formed recently after revelations that the Western Health Trust was spending around £8m a year less than it was supposed to on such services.
The meeting was held to discuss the on-going shortfall in funding, which was announced at a recent meeting between the Trust’s Senior Learning Disability Managers and representatives of a number of parent carers groups and community organisations.
According to a report prepared by the Health and Social Care Board, it was identified that there has been consistent under funding over a number of years.
John McCann, a member of the Action Group from Limavady outlined to the Minister that representations had been made to the Trust as far back as 2002 highlighting the under funding of services, and further representations were made on a continuous basis without any increase in funding.
He said that the group was now calling for an immediate re-instatement of the £8m to the budget and to seek retrospective funding for all the years that Learning Disability services were short changed.
Frances McHugh from Castlederg said that vulnerable people with learning disabilities were being treated as second class citizens.
“We have been living and working with the disastrous effects of this reduced funding across respite services, day opportunities, social worker support, autism services and family support,” she said.
She also gave the Minister a first-hand account of the impact on her son and their family.
Dermott O’Hara from local charity Destined said that there could be up to £100m in lost funding to date and that this needed redressed.
“The Minister said she will treat this as a matter of urgency and we are hopeful something is going to be done in the very near future,” Mr O’Hara said.
In response the Minister said: “Understandably, this issue has caused a great deal of concern over recent weeks and months.
“This is why the priority must now be to robustly and accurately quantify any gap and crucially, come up with a plan to rectify it.
“The Western Trust has agreed to develop such a plan, with the support of the HSC Board, as a matter of urgency. I will closely monitor progress on this issue in the coming weeks.”