Young people with autism face long waits for assessment

Children in some areas of Yorkshire, who have been identified as having autistic traits, are having to wait almost three years for assessments to unlock crucial support.

An investigation has revealed serious delays across the county are leaving families potentially affected by developmental disorder autism waiting up to 150 weeks to be assessed.

NICE guidelines state that length of time between referral and assessment should be no longer than three months.

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New statistics for June show the South West Yorkshire Partnerships NHS Trust (SWYT), which carries out tests in Calderdale, Barnsley, Kirklees and Wakefield, left one family waiting 1,053 days for an assessment while its average wait was 66 weeks.

SWYT said it recognises the difficulties that delays create for families but said it was hoped extra funding from NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCG) in Calderdale and Kirklees would tackle the issue over the next year.

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, who founded the Parliamentary Commission on Autism, has branded the assessment delays a “scandal” and claims the services in his constituency rank as among the worst in the country.

Autism charities warn that delays in diagnosis can leave children misunderstood.

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“This is a scandal that’s going to be increasingly exposed by the Autism Commission, we are not going to put up with this,” said Mr Sheerman.

“This is endemic in the system.”

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, trusts across Yorkshire are failing to meet NICE guidelines for autism assessments overall and several cases have been recorded in which children were forced to wait more than a year to be assessed.

In recent months one family had to wait more than 96 weeks for an assessment by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, while Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust recorded one delay of almost 94 weeks.

SWYT’s director for specialist services, Carol Harris, said CCGs in Kirklees have spent an extra £340,000 on autism assessments and will invest further in 2017, while extra investment from Calderdale CCG aims to clear localised waiting lists in the next year.

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She said: “We acknowledge there are currently long waiting times due to the demand on the service, and recognise that this is difficult for families. We are working closely with the local CCGs to improve on these waiting times.”