Ross Hussey, the Ulster Unionist MLA for West Tyrone, this week led an Assembly debate on what he described as a shameful and immoral multi-million pound underspend on support for adult learning disability services in the Western Health and Social Care Trust area.
Mr Hussey said:
"Following weeks of discussions with local families and officials I was pleased to have been able to secure this important debate in the Assembly on Tuesday evening. Importantly, for the first time, it gave us the opportunity to raise the issue directly with the new Health Minister. The sheer gravity of the issue was clearly demonstrated by the unprecedented number of MLAs in attendance and wishing to take part in the debate.
"The revelation that the Western Health and Social Care Trust has been underspending on core support for adult learning disabilities for over 20 years came as a body blow to those families who have been cruelly denied greater support or improved services for their loved ones. Over the years, the Western Health and Social Care Trust, or its predecessors the Sperrin Lakeland Trust, or the Foyle Trust, have taken money away from the services that these people should get. It started at least in 1994, and, at that time, there was an underspend of £4 million. These are the figures that were uncovered. When we ask the trust for an exact figure, they are unable to provide.
"If it was £4 million in 1994 and £8 million in 2016, is the figure cumulative? Is it £4 million over 20 years, so that we end up, after we start adding inflation, talking about an underspend that is in excess of £100 million? Is that the figure? The people who look after adults with learning disabilities are convinced that more than £100 million has not been allocated to the parents or to those who suffer from adult-learning disabilities.
"At the end of March 2016, there were 53 patients waiting longer than 13 weeks - the maximum permitted time - within the adult learning disability service in the Western Trust. There were 93 breaches across Northern Ireland - so the Western Trust accounted for well over half and I fear that this underfunding has been a direct contributory factor to that.
"Whilst the Trust's response to the problem has been to 'develop a long term plan, in partnership with local families and carers, to quantify the spending gap and address the current historic resourcing issues in its adult learning disability services' I believe the WHSCT must go further. Firstly, it must give a commitment to families that it will reinstate the funding to adult learning disability services and secondly, it must support and fully participate in an independent investigation into how the underspend was allowed to occur in the first place."