'Covid will get a vaccine but Down Syndrome won't'

(Above) John, Ethan, Dylan and Linda Fitzpatrick.

A group of local parents who have children with Down Syndrome have launched a campaign to get the HSE to reopen vital early intervention services closed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the past nine months hundreds of highly trained HSE staff who provide a range of speech and language, physiotherapy and occupational therapy supports across Ireland have been redeployed as contact tracers and Covid-19 testers.

In a video posted to social media this week, members of the Westmeath Longford branch of Down Syndrome Ireland called on the HSE to reopen the early intervention services in both counties.

Linda Fitzpatrick, who appears in the video with her two year old son, Ethan, said that since the services were suspended she and the other parents in the group have been trying to provide the therapies that their children need, but require professional assistance.

"We, as parents, do everything we can but our children need help from speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Our children are being ignored and forgotten about and we can't allow this to happen.

"Every child deserves the right to achieve their full potential and we will fight every step of the way to ensure that Ethan and every other child gets what they need," she said.

John, Ethan, Dylan and Linda Fitzpatrick.

Áine Waters, who appears in the video with her one year old son Lorcan, said that the HSE and government “need to hear us”.

“We need services. We need speech and language. We need physio. We need Springfield [the early intervention facility in Mullingar] to open up to our children as soon as possible. Covid can't be used as an excuse for ever. Covid will get a vaccine, Down Syndrome won't. We have to push, push, for everything. It's a joke.”

The chairperson of Westmeath Longford Down Syndrome, Laura Drumm, said that last nine months have been very stressful for parents in the group.

"We realised that there was a pandemic. We realised services were closed and we waited our turn. When the country opened up, we waited our turn again. The government said the disability services would be opened but we were passed by. The centres that offer the therapies are still closed. We fear that children with special needs and Down Syndrome are being ignored by the HSE in Longford/Westmeath."