Hearing date fixed for first of potentially hundreds of special needs assessment delay cases

A judge has fixed a hearing date next February for the first of potentially hundreds of legal actions against the HSE over delays in carrying out special needs assessments of children with a range of conditions including autism.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said he was fixing a hearing date for February 22, the earliest available date, because the situation should not be allowed continue any longer than it has.

Some of the cases were mentioned before the judge today and he was told by Derek Shorthall BL, for some applicants, they are still awaiting the HSE's statement of opposition due last September and for which time to serve it had already been extended.

David Leahy BL, for the HSE, said it needed more time. The HSE "is a creature of its budget" and its concerns included that children further down the assessment waiting list did not "leapfrog" over others higher up the list, he said.

The judge said all the children involved are disabled and all require assessment of their needs.

He said he would give the HSE three more weeks to file its opposition but it must be filed within that time and the first case would be heard on February 22.

After being told a number of cases may be selected to proceed as "test" cases, the judge said he would case manage the proceedings as required.

The court previously heard the delays in carrying out the multi-disciplinary assessments extend for up to two years and the reasons include an insufficient number of psychologists.

Under the Disability Act 2005, an assessment must be commenced within three months of an application being received, and completed within a further three months from date of commencement. If not completed within that time, the reasons why must be set out, as must a time frame for completion.

There is just one complaints officer nationwide to handle hundreds of complaints by parents over the delays.

The claims in the various cases include that the complaints process under the Disability Act is not an adequate or appropriate remedy for reasons including it runs counter to proper administrative practice and creates further delay.

An applicant with a special needs child urgently awaiting diagnosis and access to services may, if they use the complaints procedure, have to wait beyond 20 months to secure a statutory right which should be fulfilled within a maximum six months, it is claimed.

About twenty cases have been initiated to date but Mr Shorthall previously said there are potentially hundreds of cases relating to assessment of needs of children with serious conditions including autism and Aspergers Syndrome.

An assessment normally involves a multi-disciplinary team including an occupational and speech and language therapist, a physiotherapist and a psychologist. A completed assessment may include a diagnosis and statement of services required by the child.

KEYWORDS: Court, HSE, Special Needs


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