WHSCT plan for respite unit ‘unjust’ says father

Derry father, Frank Gallagher, with his son, Eoin, who uses the 'Cottages' respite unit in the Waterside.
Derry father, Frank Gallagher, with his son, Eoin, who uses the 'Cottages' respite unit in the Waterside.

The father of a teenage boy with complex needs who uses a children’s respite care unit in the Waterside has described the Western Health and Social Care Trust’s (WHSCT) plans to change the way the facility operates as “unjust” and “inequitable”.

Frank Gallagher attended a special meeting between families affected by the proposed changes at the respite unit in Shepherd’s Way (known locally as ‘The Cottages’) and senior representatives of the WHSCT. The meeting was organised by SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan.

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan who has released the findings of the Christopher Mills Report into waste disposal at Campsie and Mobuoy outside Derry. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 18.12.68

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan who has released the findings of the Christopher Mills Report into waste disposal at Campsie and Mobuoy outside Derry. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 18.12.68

“The WHSCT informed us [the families] at the meeting that provision in Derry would be cut from the current six beds to four beds, but would also move to a part time service operating only three days a week (i.e. 12 nights occupancy per month).

“This is the equivalent of 1.7 beds operating for the whole of Derry. For comparison Omagh and Newry both have eight beds each and even Banbridge has four.

“This represents a cut of 70 per cent and leaves Derry with 20 per cent of the capacity of Omagh, who will now offer their facilities to Derry families. We all know we each have to shoulder some of the pain of the current cuts but this is unjust and totally inequitable”

Mr. Gallagher’s 15 year-old son Eoin is undiagnosed but has profound Global Developmental Delay (GDD) which means his mental age does not develop at the same rate of his physical growth.

“The parents are in equal measure, totally distraught and angered by this feedback.

“We explained to the WHSCT that respite is how we cope, it’s how our families survive and that they may as well have asked us to breathe 70 per cent less or go to Omagh to breathe. It was to no avail,” he added.

Mr. Gallagher went on to claim that during Friday’s meeting, the representatives from the WHSCT stated that any savings made as a result of changes to ‘the Cottages’ unit would be “petty”.

“The profundity of the impacts and the - small- size of the savings are hard to reconcile.

“The thought process seemed ill-thought out and savings quoted took no account of additional costs associated with the move of services to Omagh such as transport, or the legalities of withholding the children from school during their stays there.

“Our [the parents] caring efforts save the trust multiple millions each year yet for what are very petty savings they will now cut away the very fabric of a safety net that saves them multiple millions, and in all likelihood will quickly precipitate costs greater than they save as carers and families struggle to cope.” he said.

He added: “We want to thank Mark H Durkan for taking this right to the minister [Jim Wells MLA], but we are also calling to all of the politicians of this city to unite on this matter. These comparative statistics are shameful, and a throwback to the disparities of old - those days are supposed to be gone. Derry is the second city, not the second-class city.

“What has gone wrong with our representation when we can again see such deliberated disadvantage impact our city, and even worse see it systematically targeting our most innocent and most vulnerable children? We call for the political outcry this needs, and the forceful political reaction it desperately deserves,” Mr. Gallagher told the Journal yesterday.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ yesterday evening, Mark H. Durkan MLA said: “The WHSCT has confirmed that there will be no change in the functioning of the Cottages respite facility until after the Christmas period. It is crucial we use this time to engage productively with families, the WHSCT and the Department of Health.

“Today, I have requested an urgent meeting with the Health Minister. It is imperative that we do everything possible to protect this precious service for young people and their families.

“No stone should be left unturned and I am actively engaged with other agencies to establish if there is any way of working in partnership to ensure the retention of this vital service.

“Working together at all levels and ensuring the communication between families and the provider remains open is imperative, especially at this time when families are so anxious and distressed,” said Mr. Durkan.

When contacted by the Derry Journal, a spokesperson for the WHSCT said: “The WHSCT continues to meet with families, their relatives, staff and public representatives concerning the matter.”