Families desperate for support for children suspected of having autism are still facing huge delays in Leeds, with some waiting up to 64 weeks for vital assessments despite an NHS pledge.
The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed that parents were being forced to look abroad to have their children assessed for autism after waiting times grew and NHS testing ground to a halt despite a £360,000 investment.
Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, which carries out the assessments in the city, pledged to bring waiting times down in line with NICE guidance of 12 weeks by December this year.
But new figures show that since December 2015 the waiting list has grown from 140 cases to 191 in June, while the average wait for school age children in the city was still more than twice the target time. The National Autistic Society has warned that delays in diagnosis can leave children misunderstood.
‘Parents should not have to fight...but everything’s a fight’
Vicki Reedman’s six-year-old son was first put on the waiting list to be assesed for autism in June 2015.
Lucas has been held back a school year due to his lack of development. And their place on the list comes after a three year battle for a referal.
“Who knows the impact it’s had on Lucas,” she said. “How can you say it couldn’t have helped him?
“We never had that help at the most crucial time when he was being held back.
Vicki, an optician from Bramley, continued: “Parents shouldn’t have to fight for this but everything is a fight when you’ve got a child with a mental health disability just because there’s nothing out as there’s never any funding – that’s what we always get told.”
She claims that Lucas, who was non-verbal until the age of four-and-a-half, has fallen behind his peers and has even been excluded for behaviour she puts down to his autistic traits in the past.
The youngster has awareness issues, poor understanding, struggles with eye contact and has a need for routine.
Vicki was finally invited to see autism specialists.
NHS trusts across Yorkshire are failing to meet the 12-week for assessment to referral, with delays in Leeds meaning
school age children were forced to wait 25 weeks on average in March as the waiting list continued to grow.
Meanwhile South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which covers Calderdale, Kirklees, Barnsley and Wakefield, recorded average waits of 66 weeks in June. One family was forced to wait 150 weeks for assessment by the trust. A recent BBC investigation has also found that more than 2,000 Yorkshire children are currently in need of an
assessment, of whom 913 have been waiting longer than 12 weeks.
Sam Prince, director of operations at LCH, said the trust has doubled the number of appointments for assessments that it offers through “working more efficiently” and recruiting new staff.
She said: “We are aware that waiting times are too long and we continue to work hard to make sure we meet the demand for autism assessments in the city.” She added that the trust remains on track to cut waiting times to 12 weeks by March 2017.