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'It can only get worse': Anger over lack of progress in transfer of services from St John of Gods to HSE
Parents said they feel “stuck in the middle” between the two organisations.

PARENTS OF SERVICE users at facilities run by St John of God Community Services (SJOG) have expressed anger at the lack of progress of plans to transfer responsibility for the operation of services to the HSE.

A letter sent by SJOG to parents and service users this week, and seen by, outlined the group’s frustration at a lack of progress in the transfer process.

Parents said they feel “stuck in the middle” between the two organisations and the situation is “worse than it was two months ago”.

SJOG announced in October plans to end its service arrangement with the HSE and to transfer responsibility for the service operation directly to the HSE over the next 12 months.

SJOG, which will cease its involvement in the provision of these services by 1 October 2021, previously said it made the decision “with deep regret” and “due to a protracted and unresolved systemic underfunding crisis that had undermined the organisation for over a decade”.

A formal letter of notice was sent to the HSE on 30 September.

SJOG currently provides intellectual disability and mental health services to over 8,000 children, adolescents and adults, and employs 3,000 staff and volunteers in 300 locations across counties Dublin, Kildare, Kerry, Wicklow, Meath and Louth.

Over 2,500 of those impacted are in receipt of day, residential and respite services for people with a disability.

However, in the 10 weeks since the announcement, there has been a lack of progress in the transition process.

In a letter received by parents this week, Clare Dempsey, CEO of Saint John of God Community Services, wrote that SJOG representatives met with the HSE on 3 November and both teams “were in agreement in relation to the need to minimise distress to the critical stakeholders by having as smooth a transfer as possible”.

However, she noted that on 16 November the HSE cancelled a meeting due to take place on 18 November.

“The correspondence indicated that the HSE considered that wider engagement with Hospitaller Order and Boards of Saint John of God Hospitaller Services Group (SJOGHSG) and SJOGCS would be helpful, given some of the complexities of the transfer discussed at the first meeting,” the letter states.

It adds that such delays “could potentially jeopardise the ability of the HSE to ensure a smooth transfer of services within the timeframe”.

Parents have expressed anger at the lack of progress in the two and a half months since the announcement was made.

‘It can only get worse’ 

The father of one service user told parents are “very stressed” by the situation and feel “stuck between the HSE and Saint John of Gods”.

“They’re turning it into administration battle between two organisations and all the parents get stuck in the middle.

“It is very stressful reading two pages of a letter and then going ‘well actually, this is worse than it was two months ago’. At least two months ago there was sort of a plan, but now we know that nothing has happened.

“So, if anything, the letter is actually more stressful to receive than not receive, if that makes sense.”

The father said many families lost access to services during the Covid-19 pandemic and this is only recently starting to improve. He said the added uncertainty around the transfer of services is having a negative impact.

“It’s like the post-Covid Christmas present for all the families. People were worried about the change to the HSE anyway, but now it has made it clearly obvious from this letter that the transition has started off appallingly and therefore it can only get worse.

“Time’s running out, and we have no certainty of what’s going to happen or who’s going to be in charge.”

He said the HSE has not written to service users or parents to date.

Meeting in January

SJOG today confirmed to the that the meeting postponed by the HSE in November is now scheduled to take place in the first week of January. However, this detail was not in the letter sent to parents as the meeting had not been rescheduled when it was written.

In the letter, Dempsey told parents and service users: “I know that you may be disappointed that I am not sharing more definitive information with you at this stage, and I share your disappointment in this respect.

“We are now 10 weeks into this transition period with 41 weeks remaining and as such we would have like and expected to be reporting much greater progress at this point.”

A SJOG spokesperson today said: “Since serving this notice to terminate, St John of God Community Services has sought meetings with the HSE and has appointed a ‘transfer team’ to work with the HSE to assist with the preparation and implementation of a plan to support the orderly transfer of services.”

They added that SJOG is “very cognisant of the impact of the notice of termination on the individual we support, their families, staff and volunteers”.

“As a matter of urgency, the transfer team is seeking a schedule of meetings with the HSE to prepare this plan and to arrange for communication with all of the people impacted by the transfer of services.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “In the first instance, it is of critical importance to reassure service users, families and the public that these vital supports and services will continue to be provided without disruption.”

They added that the HSE “values the services provided by SJOGCS clg as a significant funded support provider”.

“Importantly, the HSE will continue to work positively with SJOGCS clg in order to resolve the sustainability challenges that have been raised.”

The spokesperson said the HSE “has made clear the importance of engagement” with senior members of the SJOG boards, which will take place in January.

“Additionally, the HSE confirms it is in the process of meeting parent representative groups and has held an initial engagement with one of the representative groups already.”

Speaking in October, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that SJOG has provided “for many years, many many decades, and continues to provide, invaluable services that families all around Ireland have used over the previous decades”.

Donnelly said that there was a “continuity plan” in place for the HSE to take responsibility for the services SJOG currently provides.

“If the current view of the board carries through, we would transfer functions to the state on the first of October next year,” Donnelly said.

“There will be very close, ongoing conversations between the state and St John of God’s,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge the profoundly beneficial impact they have had on so many people and so many families for so many decades.”

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