It is by sheer coincidence that Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced this week a further £2m funding for autism support services – a welcome development. Coincidence because we at BtP have been digging for information in each of our Trusts for information for the past five weeks relating to the waiting times for autism assessments for both children and adults. We weren’t expecting some of the figures that were uncovered.
The figures we received uncover what we can only describe as a shameful and utterly disgraceful legacy that has no doubt impacted families and the services to their loved ones over recent years. Some of our figures show that in some cases, assessments took not weeks, not months, but years to be carried out. For a modern country, that is unacceptable.
We asked each Trust to outline each year since 2011 the longest, shortest and average time it took to carry out both adult and child assessments.
The Western Trust which stretches from Derry to Fermanagh, is by far the worst performing Trust for autism assessments. In one instance, it took almost four and a half years (1,621 days) for an adult to have an assessment undertaken – and this was not in the middle ages, it was in 2014.
The longest assessment for a child in the Western Trust was still over a year in 2011, at 424 days.
Whilst falling from the atrocious high between 2012-2014, the graph evidently demonstrates there is a dramatic climb back to over a year for assessments.
Strangely, the Trust could only give us the data we requested from 2014 for the adult assessments.
The Northern Trust also has a shameful record, with one case for a child’s assessment taking almost two years in 2011. This waiting time improves in 2012-2013 but is again creeping up. The record for adult assessments is as bad – almost two years waiting for one case in 2012. However, it does have to be recognised that the Northern Trust in some cases has some of the shortest waiting times also, but this is likely to be due to emergency circumstances.
The Northern Trust could only give us up until the 2014-15 financial year end.
The Southern Trust has a relatively stable waiting time across both adult and child assessments – albeit still too long.
Again in another mindboggling decision, the Trust have only told us that an adult assessment currently take 30 months. This is because, it states:
“The Adult ASD diagnostic service in the Southern Trust became operational again in September 2015 after a period when it was stood down due to the staffing difficulties. The resource available to the Trust to deliver this service, with staff skilled in diagnosis, can only only provide one clinic per month. Due to the complexities of the diagnostic process and the time required to complete the initial screening assessments, each clinic can only see 2 people per clinic. Therefore the waiting time for a diagnostic assessment is currently 30 months and continues to grow with 62 people on the waiting list.”
We will let the people of the Southern Trust area who are in need of this service address that.
Those in the Belfast Trust area will be surprised to note that the information we got from every other Trust in one form or another was ‘not available in the format we requested’ from Belfast.
Alas, they do tell us that the current waiting times for a child assessment is 20 months for primary and 22 months for post-primary aged children.
The adult assessment waiting times are as bad, with the waiting list currently standing at 20 months.
The South Eastern Trust is another example of a horrendous waiting time for both adult and child assessments in 2012, dipping in 2013-14, and again beginning to rise.
Indeed, at 235 days, the waiting times for child assessments is at their highest ever in this area. The longest wait for an adult assessment was in 2011 at 420 days, yet in 2015 with the most up to date figures, the longest wait stands at 392 days.
Amongst all of the data we have received, it is clear that whatever provision was put in place in the 2012-2013 period, times fell almost across the board, but now timescales for assessments are creeping back up, most likely in light of the austerity budget agreed by the Executive. What is also quite worrying and frustrating in equal measure is the lack of uniform recording of waiting times across all the Trusts.
We understand wholeheartedly that the staff behind these services are doing their best, absolutely, it is those higher up the chain that need to look at these figures. For any family out there who is perhaps fighting a case for their loved one and who think our figures might be of use, please do email us and we will be happy to provide them to you.