Laois Offaly Families for Autism protesting at the lack of services to their children with autism in 2016.
The lack of psychological services for Laois children with disabilities has been confirmed to the Leinster Express by the Health Service Executive.
All four of the HSE's posts for child psychologists for Laois children with physical and intellectual disabilities, are largely vacant since 2015.
Efforts to recruit the three basic grade psychologists and one senior psychologis have failed.
The waiting list has grown and now stands at 750 school-age children.
Some of them are waiting for as long as five years.
Mary Dunne is Chairperson of Laois Offaly Families for Autism (LOFFA). “Families are hitting crisis point with nowhere to go as a result of this complete neglect,” she said. These children have complex needs and are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues. Young children are not being assessed and proper recommendations are not being made for their education.
“As a consequence they are developing high anxiety, behavioural issues and depression and some are dropping out of school. Then they can't get jobs, they just sit at home with no qualifications. It’s very serious, I don’t think we will see the full consequences for another few years,” she said.
A spokesperson for the HSE said that several recruitment campaigns were held, but suitable candidates were not identified.
“HSE management are actively working to ensure that these posts are filled as soon as possible,” they said.
The HSE confirmed the number waiting for the school age service.
“This issue has been raised at national HSE level and is continuously under review,” the HSE said.
“At present waiting times in Laois for school age psychology services is 4½ -5 years. The lack of availability of suitable candidates for the vacant psychology posts has impacted and compounded the length of waiting times,” the HSE said. LOFFA held a public protest in Tullamore at services back in 2016 but the situation has only worsened, Ms Dunne said.
“We have been told for three years that these roles are about to be filled. We now have probably the longest waiting list in the country,” she said.
The HSE is seeking agency staff to temporarily fill the job vacancies.
“The HSE is currently sourcing agency staff with a view to the temporary filling of the three basic grade psychology posts. These posts are to be advertised via the National Recruitment Service for the permanent appointment of these psychologists. The senior psychologist post is currently with the National Recruitment Service for filling,” the HSE said.
LOFFA believes the it is the backlog that is putting off potential employees.
“One psychologist came but they left again, because of the massive backlog with no team to support them.
“There needs to be money budgeted separately now to buy in a private service to clear that backlog and put in a multi-disciplinary team for speech and language, occupational therapy and paedatrics, so they are not working in isolation,” Ms Dunne said.