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‘Sad’ day as St John of God to transfer services to HSE

One of the largest providers of services for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health difficulties has announced the transfer of all service provision to the Health Service Executive later this year.

The decision by Saint John of God Community Services (SJOGCS), follows what it has described as “the failure to conclude a funding agreement with the HSE”, aimed at “securing the future financial sustainability of the organisation”.

A formal letter confirming the decision has been issued to the HSE by the Board of SJOGCS.

The transition process is expected to be completed by 15 August.

SJOGCS Chief Executive Clare Dempsey, described it as “a very sad day” for the service.

She said the confirmation was with “profound regret and deep disappointment”.

“Today represents the saddest day in the history of our long-established service, which has been in operation since the 1930s. I know it is deeply disappointing for those we support, our staff and the many thousands of families around the country with whom we hold such strong ties and bonds with over so many years.

“We will do all in our power to conduct a smooth transfer of service to HSE and will seek to minimise the impact on the 8,000 people availing of our services, as well as our 3,000 valued members of staff,” she said.

The independent acute psychiatric teaching hospital Saint John of God Hospital based in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, is not affected.

Services provided to around 8,000 people

Saint John of God Community Services provides services to approximately 8,000 children, adolescents and adults and has a deficit of €32.5 million.

It employs 3,000 staff and volunteers in 300 locations across Dublin, Kildare, Kerry, Wicklow, Meath and Louth.

In a statement, SJOGCS said there had been ongoing correspondence with the HSE in recent months expressing serious concern regarding its accumulated deficit and the sustained lack of adequate funding to allow for its continued financial and operational sustainability.

In recent weeks, the matter was the subject of engagement with the HSE, the Department Children, Equality, Disability and Integration and the Department of Health.

Transition process is expected to be completed by 15 August.

The decision to transfer services has been formally ratified by the Board of St John of God Community Services and the Board of Saint John of God Hospitaller Services Group, of which SJOGCS is a subsidiary.

It is not the first time that SJOGCS has announced the transfer of responsibility to the Health Service Executive.

In 2020, the HSE agreed to conduct a Sustainable Impact Assessment of SJOGCS, when the board announced, it would have to transfer the service to the growing deficit.

The objective of the Sustainability Impact Assessment was to co-design “a high-quality service that complied with legislation and national policy aligning with agreed service delivery models”.

It also sought to establish “the cost of delivering the service and to obtain the funding required to deliver the agreed service models”.

However, it appears the Sustainable Impact Assessment (SIA), which was completed last October did not meet the objectives of St John of God Community Services.

The SIA has not yet been published according to the HSE, because it continues to be “a working document”.

Financial pressures

Parents of those who use the service have also not had sight of the final document despite numerous requests.

In January this year, St John of God Community Services Board members and the Executive Management Team met with a HSE delegation to discuss the SIA.

It is understood that the serious financial pressures and potential consequences arising from the potential transfer of services were discussed. Talks between the two sides resumed this month, however agreement was not reached.

It means St John of God Community Services, which is a Section 38 organisation, will now become the full responsibility of the HSE. It is not clear at this point what this will mean for service users.

The Health Service Executive has noted that when final figures “close out” for 2023, it will have funded St John of God Community Services just over €200 million for the 2023 accounting period.

“That figure has increased annually over the years addressing pay award, new developments and other funding needs fully,” it said.

Since 2019, SJOGCS “broke even” each year according to the HSE. It also noted that the deficit on the books of SJOGCS was accrued prior to 2019.

“An agreed portion of that deficit has been validated as being associated with service provision albeit incurred at the discretion of SJOGCS and not with the prior approval of the HSE”, it said.

Indeed, the 2020 annual report of St John of God Community Services stated there was a €1m surplus. However, it also noted that this was primarily attributed to “the reduced costs associated with the closure and curtailment of services” due to the pandemic and additional funding by the HSE to meet Covid costs.

“Despite operating with a surplus in 2020, the board is concerned with the underlying underfunding of services. The board as a legal entity is subject to company legislation and cannot continue to operate with this level of underfunding,” according to the report.

The 2020 annual report said the accumulated deficit of €32.4m (which has since risen to €32.5m) had been the subject of “continuous engagement with the HSE throughout 2020 and in prior years”.

SJOGCS said efforts would be made to ensure an orderly transfer of services, with a commitment to minimise disruption to those availing of the services.

It said representatives from St John of God “will collaborate with personnel nominated by the HSE” to prepare and implement a plan to transfer services.

“It is expected that staff will transition to the employment of the HSE in accordance with TUPE legislation”, it said.

A transfer of undertakings (also known as TUPE) is when employees are moved to a new employer as part of a legal merger or the sale of a business.

In messages to staff and families today, the board and the executive management team emphasised that every effort had been made to avoid “this difficult decision”.

It acknowledged and thanked them for their support “throughout this difficult period”.

Intolerable situation

St John of God Hospitaller Services Group – of which Saint John of God Community Services is a subsidiary – said it supported “this very regrettable decision”.

It acknowledged that the board of Community Services could no longer preside over what has become an intolerable situation.

“The annual funding allocation from the HSE to Community Services has been insufficient for over a decade. This has negatively impacted the ability to provide services consistent with good practice and respectful of the human rights of those who avail of the services.”, it said.

The Hospitaller Service Group said the termination of the Service Arrangement was “despite the sustained efforts of the executive and board of Community Services over many years, and particularly over the past three years”.

It noted that the objective of the Sustainability Impact Assessment process was to establish the level of funding required to provide services to the required standard.

“Unfortunately, the HSE has not committed to the core additional funding required to sustain service provision nor addressed the accumulated deficit”.

The Hospital Services Group said it would support Community Services in the transfer of the services to the HSE with a focus on “minimising the distress to our colleagues and to those who avail of the services and their families”.

It said: “The St John of God organisation in Ireland will continue to provide the services of our hospital, our specialist dementia care facility, our housing association, and our schools. We will also continue our valuable research programmes and our support for critical services in Malawi, both delivered with the help of money raised by our fundraising foundation”.

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