THE Western Trust has apologised this week after new figures revealed that over 600 children were awaiting an autism assessment in the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) area as of January 31 this year.
Of those 636 children, over 75 per cent had waited 13 weeks or more, according to statistics obtained by the Tyrone Constitution – a situation West Tyrone MLA., Tom Buchanan, described as ‘totally unacceptable’
Kerry Boyd, the chief executive officer for Autism NI, meanwhile, described the waiting list as 'disheartening and demoralising for so many families’.
While the Western Trust apologised for the length of time waiting for both assessment and intervention, it stressed it was "committed in its efforts to reduce waiting times and enhance service provision for children with a diagnosis of autism and their families across the Western Trust area.”
A spokesperson for the Trust said: "The Western Trust Children’s Autism Service is committed to seeing children for assessment and intervention in a timely manner.
"Unfortunately given the significant increase in referrals for both diagnostic autism assessment and intervention the waiting time for assessment has increased. The service does not have the capacity to meet the current demand. Significant efforts have been made by our Children’s Autism Service to reduce the waiting times and also to ensure that children receive a high quality clinical assessment that meets clinical guidelines.
"There has been increased efficiency in gathering information from schools and other professionals prior to a child’s assessment and additional collaborative working with other services that are involved with children."
Staff have been providing overtime clinics at the weekend, the statement continued. "These efforts have resulted in an increase in the number of assessments concluded."
The spokesperson insisted that the Western Trust was working closely with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and the Department of Health (DOH) to highlight these issues.
"We have received some additional investment to support the recruitment of new staff both within diagnostic assessment and intervention and recruitment was currently ongoing.
"It is anticipated that this will result in a reduction in waiting times and the case for additional resources for children with autism will continue to be highlighted. The Western Trust apologises for the length of time waiting for both assessment and intervention and is committed in its efforts to reduce waiting times and enhance service provision for children with a diagnosis of autism and their families across the Western Trust area.”
Full story in this week's Tyrone Constitution...