More than 2,000 Derbyshire patients in need of autism assessments waiting over a year and a half for help
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Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the county and city’s mental health specialists, has been open about the struggles it has faced and continues to face in carrying out autistic spectrum disorder assessments.
In November, when the backlog was 1,300 patients and an average wait of a year and four months, the trust had said the situation was “not good enough” and they needed more funding to tackle the issue.
Since then, the backlog has surged 55 per cent to 2,038, the latest figures to January, now made publicly available, show.
The trust says in its board papers that “demand for the service continues to outstrip capacity” with the organisation commissioned to carry out 26 assessments each month – but receiving three times that, 76 referrals, every month.
It says it has increased its workforce with 20 new staff coming on board as of February and trying to make efficiencies to increase the number of assessments that can be completed.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “We are sorry that adults in Derbyshire are having to wait for an autism assessment.
“As a trust, we are commissioned to carry out a set number of assessments each month and the demand for assessments is currently much higher than our capacity allows.
“We recognise that this is a very important issue, and it is one that we are monitoring at a trust board level and discussing with our system partners and commissioners.
“We are continually striving to explore different options for increasing the number of assessments without reducing quality.
“Additional funding has also been made available by NHS Derby and Derbyshire Integrated Care Board so that we can work more closely with voluntary and community sector organisations, to provide people with greater support while they are waiting for an assessment.
“We are also enabling our staff to develop their skills and awareness of supporting people with autism, so all our services are as inclusive as possible.”
As the Local Democracy Reporting Service detailed last September, the trust’s reports also show that these delays were very much present before the pandemic, with the backlog not purely attributable to periods of healthcare service lockdown.
However, it has substantially worsened since the pandemic, with figures as of August 2019 showing more than 800 people waiting for assessments, for an average of seven months.
Autism assessments are frequently necessary in gaining the required support in school for children with special educational needs – tied up in a legally binding document called an education, health and care plan.
Over the past few years, parents have told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the wait for ASD assessment appointments has meant their children go longer without the specific support they need – often outside of a mainstream school.
They have also explained that an ASD assessment is vital in securing the support needed for children who are on the autistic spectrum, without which it is difficult to get your foot in the door.
The LDRS has detailed that in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, patients must now be in “crisis” before they can be referred for an autism diagnosis, due to rising demand and capacity issues.
This comes after a 350 per cent increase in referrals in the past two years, with an average of a two-year wait for the eventual assessments.