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funding issues

Varadkar seeks to reassure St John of God service users they will be 'protected'

On Friday, St John of God Community Services said it intended to transfer services to the HSE by mid-August.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has sought to reassure those availing of St John of God Community Services (SJOG) that they will be looked after, following the news last week that services will be transferred to the HSAE due to funding issues. 

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Varadkar said the situation has “caused a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety and worry for service users and their families that should have been avoided”. 

“I can give the assurance to service users and their families that whatever happens the services will be protected, even if that means the HSE has to take them over,” the Taoiseach said. 

“We would prefer that not to be the case and that we will be able to come to an agreement with St John of Gods,” he said. 

The St John of God (SJOG) board met last week to discuss the future of the services after the organisation said it faces a €32.5 million deficit.

Staff at SJOG were informed that, unless extra funding is received by the HSE to cover the deficit, the process of transferring services will begin.

In a statement Friday, SJOG said it will “transfer all service provision to the HSE later this year” and added that it’s intended for this transition to be completed by 15 August.

SJOG is one of the biggest providers of intellectual disability and mental health services in the country, working with around 8,000 children, adolescents and adults.

It employs some 3,000 people in 300 locations across Dublin, Kildare, Kerry, Wicklow, Meath, Monaghan and Louth.

Clare Dempsey, chief executive of SJOG, said the service will use the time between now and 15 August to manage the handover process.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that the HSE’s chief executive Bernard Gloster met with the SJOG board on Sunday. 

“Having listened to what its members had to say, he wrote to them yesterday, Monday, setting out the HSE funding that is currently available to the service and how any gap can be closed,” he said. 

Varadkar said Gloster asked the Board to withdraw their notice to quit the service on foot of that, adding he is awaiting a response. 

“This should not be about the HSE, the board, the Government or politics. It should be about the service users and their families who are now being subjected to unnecessary worry and anxiety,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said he is “sure” the situation can be resolved “quite quickly” between the HSE and the board, but added: “In the worst case scenario, which I hope does not arise, the HSE can take over the services and we can say to them that no matter what happens, those services will continue.” 

HSE reaction

In a statement on Friday, the HSE said it is “shocked and disappointed” at the SJOG announcement.

“We have worked with them over the last number of years on funding-related matters. SJOGCS’s services have had an in-year break even each year for several years, with the help of substantial HSE support, and there is no reason to believe that 2024 will be any different,” the HSE said. 

Gloster said on Friday that “if despite substantial assistance in a €200 million grant to SJOG annually, they remain insistent on withdrawing from service provision then we will require them to do so in an orderly and appropriate fashion having regard to the rights of service users and their staff”.

He said he does “not accept it is appropriate or responsible for a declaration of handover by August this year”.

“The HSE will consider carefully its options if this eventuality arises. For now, we urge SJOG to remove the anxiety for families and continue their engagement safe in the knowledge they have more than enough money and assurance to avoid such an immediate action,” Gloster said. 

St John of God Hospital and Saint Joseph’s Shankill will be unaffected by Friday’s announcement.

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