Speech delivered by Nessa Childers MEP at the seminar ‘Healthcare for persons with Disabilities: Home and Abroad’, held on 25th January 2017 in the European Parliament Brussels.
“First of all, I wish to thank my co-hosting colleagues, Jana Zitnanska and Diane Dodds, the panellists who agreed to contribute, the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, the European Disability Forum and all of you who made time in your busy agendas to be present at this meeting today.
I must start by confessing the following:
If you had told me, at the start of this legislature, that I would be addressing you, in early 2017, as a representative hailing from the sole EU country in the EU yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, I would have refused to believe you.
About a decade has elapsed since Ireland signed the convention and my country’s government is still struggling to put in place all the legislation necessary to meet its requirements, prior to making it valid, having already failed to meet a number of self-imposed deadlines.
Our government is still fumbling with archaic and unjustified restrictions to citizens’ rights such as the ability to serve in a jury or run for public office, including the very capacity I am addressing you in, as a member of the European Parliament.
I hope their current ambition to conclude this work before the end of 2017 will not be scupper.
We know that the mere enactment of legislation does not suffice to realise our citizens’ rights if it lacks adequate implementation, but the very absence of legislation absence speaks volumes of the path we still have to tread.
This national experience with the endurance of inertia led me to push for the involvement of the Environment and Public Health Committee in taking stock of the implementation of this UN convention at EU level.
Over a year ago, the very same civil society groups whose work and collaboration brought us here together, today, drew our attention to the fact that Parliament’s input to the Commission on how to move forward with implementation was lacking from the perspective of the right to health.
It does not take an expert to know that our 80 million EU citizens with disabilities face difficulties and barriers which deny them the full enjoyment of their rights.
The close association of disability with both ill-health and inadequate healthcare responses is less obvious. That was the focus of the opinion I drafted last spring in ENVI to inform Parliament’s input as the Commission prepared its response to the concluding observations of the CRPD Committee of the UN.
We can use our voice here as MEPs to confront the compounded difficulties and forms of exclusion experienced by vulnerable citizens.
Women with disabilities, for instance, report seriously high levels of ill-health, and the female population suffers from mental health problems at a rate above the average, which becomes all the more critical amongst migrant groups.
Ill-treatment or inadequate provision of care, affects persons with disabilities at a higher rate than the overall population.
The discrepancies demonstrate, for instance, serious gaps in the training of health care professionals on the healthcare needs of persons with disabilities.
An area of EU competence where we are falling short of the expectations and rights envisaged by our legislation is the provision of cross-border healthcare.
There is very low awareness of the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive and of the National Contact Points among the general population.
This should be remedied with EU wide guidance and provision of accessible information to all, including persons with disabilities, who need information in specific, adequate formats.
It so follows that, in order for persons with disabilities not to suffer discrimination under this directive, Member States must also be prepared to meet certain costs that are specific to the needs vulnerable patients.
This is an aspiration we must keep pushing to bring within EU patients reach, because we have made it their right. Our Union too depends on purposes our citizens embrace for its own long-term health at a time of crisis.