Missed autism targets show need for more funding

The SDLP's health spokesman Mark H. Durkan has called for the deployment of more resources towards autism services after this paper revealed children in the Western Trust were waiting up to 50 weeks for diagnoses at the end of March.

The Foyle MLA made the call after a ‘sustained increase’ in referrals to the Trust’s autism service meant that children were waiting up to 50 weeks for an assessment by a consultant. The target is 13 weeks.

He said: “The revelation that the Trust are missing their targets when it comes to both diagnosing and supporting people with Autism will come as no surprise to the many families here who are constantly battling for better services.

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“While these statistics are damning, they do not even tell the full story. Many families having gone through the long wait for assessment are then informed that their child is merely demonstrating traits of autism and therefore they are not diagnosed.

“This puts them back to square one.

“Their child’s need to receive adequate support is not officially recognised and this impacts on their ability to do things that most people take for granted, particularly in relation to support in education.

“This impacts hugely on children’s development, on their families and on their teachers and classmates too.

“When my party colleague Dominic Bradley got the Autism Bill through the Assembly it heralded a new start and a new hope for those living with Autism.

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“Sadly the potential of that bill to transform people’s lives has been compromised by a lack of financial support.

“I acknowledge an increase in referrals and a resultant increase in pressure on staff to meet these targets but surely this is stark evidence,if it was ever needed, that more resources need to be deployed in this area.

“It isn’t just a case of ‘throwing money’ at a problem; more investment in early diagnosis and support will lead to financial savings in the long term not to mention the relief it would bring to so many families.’’

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “The Trust is receiving an increasing number of queries on the waiting times currently being experienced across a range of its services.

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“Within Children’s Autism Services there is a gap between the demand related to referrals and the current capacity available within the Trust to see this volume of children/young people.

“It is important to note that the demand for Children’s Autism services across the whole of Northern Ireland is greater than the existing capacity to provide the service. The Trust apologises for any delay experienced by families waiting for an ASD assessment.”