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Western Trust: Adult Learning Disability Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 28th November 2016.

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Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:15 pm, 28th November 2016

4. Mr McCrossan asked the Minister of Health for an update on the action taken by her Department to address the underspend on adult learning disability services in the Western Health and Social Care Trust. (AQO 747/16-21)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

As is clear from my many public statements, robust action continues to be taken on the issue. To begin with, I have confirmed that increased investment of £3 million in adult community learning disability services is now in place, and a further £5 million is planned by the Western Trust.

I have also met representatives of local families and carers and subsequently spoken with the chief executive of the trust to relay the concerns of families and carers and to make clear my expectation that progress be now made on the development of a new investment plan that has the backing of the families. To support that, I proposed at a meeting that I had with the families in October that an independent facilitator should be appointed to work with the trust and the families to restore trust and confidence following the recent breakdown in relationships. That work will be taken forward in the context of the wider communication and engagement plan, and I have asked the trust to develop that. Furthermore, I have appointed a senior official from my Department to oversee progress and act as a point of contact for the families.

Those actions mark my commitment to finding a co-designed resolution to the issue and to working with the families and the trusts so that the focus can return to the delivery of much-needed front-line services on the ground for people with a learning disability and their family. I believe that we all share that focus, and I am determined to do all that I can to ensure that it is realised.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Minister, for your answer and your attention to the issue for a long number of months. It has been going on for nine months. Will she confirm to the House that she has got to the bottom of the issue? Will she also confirm what the overall figure is and who was at fault for the scandal in the trust?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

The Member will be aware that we have. Based on the financial data that has been provided by the Health and Social Care Board, the average capitation variance relating to the funding of adult and community learning and disability services in the Western Trust area has been quantified at around £7 million per annum. To be clear, a capitation variance of that type does not necessarily mean that there has been an underspend, but, given that it is a complicated calculation and that capitation is complicated, when I met members of the group recently, one thing that I promised them was that they would be given a meeting with the board so that they could go through all the calculations and understand for themselves exactly how they are worked out. They are glad to take up that opportunity. That will be important to ensure that everyone understands what is a complex subject, and they were grateful for that. I have asked officials to arrange a meeting between the group and the Health and Social Care Board, which is carrying out a review of the learning disability capitation model.

Photo of Michaela Boyle Michaela Boyle Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her involvement with the families and the work that she has done with them, the Western Learning Disability Action Group and others on the matter. Minister, will you give us an update on the progress made on appointing an independent facilitator to address the underspend and provide a timeline for that?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I met members of the Western Learning Disability Action Group and the Southwest Carers Forum on 11 October to hear directly their concerns following what we all know now to be a breakdown in the relationship between them and the trust. At that meeting, I agreed a number of actions, including that I will consider appointing an independent person to support a process of co-production between the trust and local families and carers to develop a plan for how the planned £5 million investment will be spent. That is a practical example of partnership and the co-design approach that I am very keen to promote.

I recently wrote to the groups representing the families for their comments on the draft terms of reference for the independent facilitation. They recently got back to me, and I am considering their comments and plan to respond to them shortly. The key message that I took from the meetings with both groups is that they want to get on with making sure that they have the best possible services available to their families and be part of the process of designing services. For us to be able to do that confidently, we need to build up that trust again. I believe that the independent facilitator is the mechanism that will allow us to build those relations again to give those people confidence that the trust is putting their needs first and foremost. The whole process of co-production is exactly how we need to develop services in the future. Those involved have an opportunity to lead the way in producing and designing the services together.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for what she has done up until now. Will she give an undertaking that she will ensure that the families are kept to the fore of the process so that they will feel part of it and that delivery will come for them? Let us remember that they are the people who suffered and who had concerns.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I can absolutely give that assurance. That is what it is about: designing the service with them. The reason that I put in the independent facilitator was to build that trust again, because confidence in the trust had completely broken down. There is a job of work to be done there, and the only way in which we will be able to do that successfully is through independent facilitation. That is the way to go. It will ensure that everybody is involved in the decision-making and the processes.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

That ends the period for listed questions. We now move on to 15 minutes of topical questions.