“Since 2010 the number of referrals for autism assessments has nearly doubled from 1,500 to 2,800 at the end of last year. Despite the hard work of many dedicated professionals, we are struggling to match pace with demand. Many children and young people are waiting more than thirteen weeks for an assessment. This is not acceptable and I am determined to get these waiting lists down.
“That is why I am today announcing increased investment of an additional £2m for Autism services across Northern Ireland. This money will fund much needed new capacity to ensure there is quicker access to diagnostic services and that, crucially, there is more support for young people and their families.”
“This new money will fund expanded teams in each Trust to improve assessment times, including clinical staff specifically trained in assessing Autism. In addition, these resources will be used to expand Autism specific support services, and improve access to wider services such as: Speech and Language Therapy, Community Paediatrics and Occupational Therapy.
“In tandem, I will continue to work with the Board and the Trusts to improve our processes and remodel our services to further drive down waiting lists and improve access to high quality services."
Notes to Editors:
1. Demand for autism assessments currently substantially outstrips capacity to provide diagnostic services. This £2m of new recurrent funding will be invested in Autism diagnostic and post diagnostic services from April 2016.
2. The new funding will be used to increase the capacity of the teams assessing young people in each of the Trusts; this will include recruiting clinical staff specially training in assessing Autism.
3. In addition, teams supporting young people with a diagnosis of Autism will be enhanced; this increased support will ensure improved access to wider support services including: Community Paediatrics, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, CAMHS, Social Services or Educational Psychology.
4. Further to increased investment, work is also underway to improve processes and remodel services, this includes:
- undertaking a peer led review of referral trends, assessment and diagnostic pathways
- working with Autism clinicians to remodel assessment processes with a view to identifying new methods of assessment that maximises clinical time, but still delivers a high quality diagnosis; and
- exploring opportunities to realign clinical capacity across child development and young people’s mental health service through the development of an integrated care pathway between Child Development Clinics, Autism and CAMHS.