NHS pledge to slash ‘unacceptable’ autism test delays in Leeds amid support fears for children

Leeds Civic Hall.
Leeds Civic Hall.
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Health bosses have pledged to cut “unacceptable” waiting times for young people in need of autism assessments in Leeds – months after the YEP exposed delays.

Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust (LCH) has announced that within the next nine months it will tackle waiting times that were on average triple the national 12-week target last year.

The assessments can lead to a diagnosis, which can unlock vital support for families like that of Lucas Reedman – a Bramley six-year-old who has been waiting more than 40 weeks to be tested.

At a meeting of Leeds City Council’s health scrutiny board yesterday, trust chiefs blamed long waiting lists on pressures to make cuts and a shortage of specialist staff.

But Nick Wood, children’s services general manager at LCH, said a “vigorous” recruitment campaign coupled with a reduction of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) waiting lists means specialists can now focus on autism.

He said: “The internal wait for autism assessment is not acceptable and a realistic plan is in place to clear the backlog of children waiting by the end of 2016, and then to maintain a 12-week wait for assessment for new referrals.”

Vicki Reedman has been waiting more than 40 weeks for her son Lucas, six, to be assessed for autism. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Vicki Reedman has been waiting more than 40 weeks for her son Lucas, six, to be assessed for autism. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Scrutiny board member Coun Brian Selby said the fear is that children waiting for a diagnosis of autism may be misunderstood, potentially excluded for their unusual behaviour and be “lost from the system”.

Mr Wood responded by saying that it is “highly likely” that young people would receive support in their schools prior to diagnosis.

He continued: “It’s almost certain that, for anybody with significant needs of this type, the CAMHS practitioner with responsibility for the case would liaise with schools and parents to ensure they got a decent outcome.”

LCH revealed that in Leeds there are now 155 children awaiting autism tests, two-thirds of whom have been waiting more than 12 weeks.

Ten children have been waiting for tests for more than 52 weeks – more than four-times the national target – but LCH claims they all now have appointments scheduled for April.

Earlier this year a YEP investigation revealed that despite a £360,000 investment in reducing autism assessment delays in March 2015, just five children were assessed for autism by LCH from July until mid December.

The waiting list contained 140 children in December and the funds were largely spent on sending dozens of families for private assessments in Huddersfield.

The National Autistic Society claims autism assessment delays can lead to “serious knock-on effects on a child’s education and long-term development”.