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HSE could face hundreds of legal actions over delays in special needs assessments, High Court hears

THE HSE could face hundreds of legal actions over delays in carrying out special needs assessments of children with a range of conditions including autism, the High Court has heard.

The delays in carrying out the multi-disciplinary assessments extend for periods 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. 

Solicitor Gareth Noble, whose firm KOD Lyons Solicitors represents several plaintiffs suing over the delays, said the assessments are an important gateway for accessing services for children.

Some parents frustrated by the delays had arranged private assessments for their children but the HSE is refusing to recognise those because they are not multi-disciplinary assessments, he added.

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

Several delay cases listed before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Tuesday for case management were adjourned to give the HSE more time to file opposition papers.

David Leahy BL, for the HSE, said he accepted its opposition papers were due to be filed by late September but he required another three weeks.

He understood about 20 cases had been initiated to date with more to come and it would be necessary for a test or leading case, or cases, to be identified as the cases raised similar legal points, he said.

Derek Shorthall BL, for some of the plaintiffs, said there are potentially hundreds of cases relating to assessment of needs of children with serious conditions including autism and Aspergers Syndrome and the HSE was in default to varying degrees concerning carrying out assessments.

The cases are systemically important for thousands of delayed assessments and he was anxious they should be speedily heard.

When counsel asked the judge to make any adjournment peremptory against the HSE, the judge said he would not do so because the HSE had to address issues affecting many cases. He granted the three week adjournment sought by the HSE in relation to the listed case.

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 a statement of services required by the child.

Among the claims in the various cases include that the delay 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 a 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 of six months, it is claimed.