New funding and staff aim to stop children waiting more than a year for autism assessment

Stock picture of a young boy waiting. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Stock picture of a young boy waiting. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Councillors are set to discuss waiting times for assessing children who may have autism, as it was revealed some youngsters were having to wait more than a year to be seen.

Norfolk County Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) will meet next week to discuss how much money is being put towards autism services by commissioners, and quiz chiefs on whether waiting times have improved.

In September last year, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Norfolk agreed to give more money to diagnosing autism, by hiring extra staff to address 'increased demand and unacceptably long waiting times'.

But a report prepared for HOSC by the CCGs said there was a lack of applications and two positions out of the four advertised remained unfilled.

Despite this, extra investment was expected to mean 100 specialist sensory assessments - plus 100 follow-ups - could be made available yearly, plus an offer of positive behaviour workshops for all eligible families in Norfolk. It was also expected by April 1, 2019 waiting times for a first appointment would be reduced to 18 weeks.

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Anne Ebbage, Norfolk autism developments advisor for charity Autism Anglia, said long waiting times could have drastic effects. She said: 'We've heard of families where children are waiting for a diagnosis and it gets too much and one of them leaves the family home.'

She added Autism Anglia had been highlighting the problems for many years. Asked whether she thought new investment would help, she said: 'I'm hopeful but we do have to wait and see. We know there are more and more children being referred for an assessment so is it ever going to get to the point where they can get all children assessed within the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines?'

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NICE recommends children and young people be assessed within three months of a referral.

But council papers showed on December 5, there were 125 children who had waited more than 52 weeks to be assessed (down from 164 on August 8). Some 47 of these had appointments booked but 78 still had no appointment. There were 284 assessments in progress (up from 148 in August).

The HOSC is due to meet on Thursday, January 11, at 10am.

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