A Co Armagh MLA has met with the Southern Trust Chief Executive to discuss its underspend of the Learning Disability Services budget.
Shane Devlin – who came into the post earlier this year – said the allocated budget for Learning Disability Services has actually increased each year since 2014.
In 2014 the budget was just over £40million and in the last financial year that had risen to almost £47million.
And at the end of last year there was an underspend of £1.1million but this has already been reinvested in the services this financial year.
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said he met with Mr Devlin earlier this week and described that meeting as productive.
“I am acutely aware of the growing demand for services and know the difficulties facing many families with loved ones with a learning disability,” said Mr McNulty.
“During our meeting the Trust did express a desire to have an even greater investment in Care in the Community and in Independent Living Schemes.
“The Chief Executive and his team were able to detail efforts they have been making to increase the provision of Supported Living Schemes across the Southern Trust area and are proactively engaging with the Health and Social Care Board to help resolve this issue. I hope that we will see progress in this area in the very near future.”
He added: “As a public representative the most heart-breaking stories I hear from parents or carers of a loved one with a disability is the difference in services for those who reach the age of nineteen.
“There are a range of services for those eighteen and under but the options for those post-nineteen are more limited. This is something we all want to see improved.”
Mr McNulty said he wanted to thank Mr Devlin and his team, “especially those who work on the front line”.
“The services they provide to those with the full range of disabilities in the community is invaluable,” he said.
“I hope that we will see the budget continue to rise in the years ahead and that support continues to increase and improve for those with a disability in our community and for their families.”
A Southern Trust spokesperson said: “We provide a very high level of support to many adults with learning disabilities and our excellent staff work very hard to ensure that each person receives the care and support they need.
“The total annual budget for adults with learning disabilities is almost £47 million. Last year, this budget was underspent by around £1.1 million (approximately 2% of the total).
“This underspend does not impact on the quality and range of care and support which people with learning disabilities receive in our Trust.
“Whilst it isn’t always possible to spend the full amount allocated to adults with learning disabilities within a single financial year; this money is always “ring-fenced” and stays within the budget for adults with learning disability and is not used for any other purpose.
“There are many reasons for the underspend including the significant time involved in securing specialist accommodation for clients with complex needs and in recruiting specialist learning disability staff. Not all decisions regarding investments are solely within the control of The Trust and spending (associated with the investment) often straddles more than one financial year.
“We are committed to working with carers and others to ensure that we continue to reduce the underspend wherever possible for the benefit of everybody using our Adult Learning Disability services.
“The excellent work done by our Learning Disability Services staff was recognised recently at the first ever National Learning Disabilities & Autism Awards to take place in Northern Ireland (winning 4 top prizes) in September 2018.
“These Awards celebrate excellence in the support for people with learning disabilities and aim to pay tribute to those who excel in providing quality care.”