MP says children will be 'left behind' if autism assessment waiting list is not cut

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion is urging an NHS Trust to cut waiting times for autism assessments, claiming an entire generation of children are at risk of being “left behind".

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion

In an open letter, the Labour MP said many local children have "faced lengthy delays" for assessments for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and these delays can be "hugely detrimental” to their development.

She said issues with the service, provided by Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), have been "apparent for a number of years" and she is "concerned that little progress has been made in reducing waiting lists".

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Mrs Champion said: “Not receiving a diagnosis can mean inappropriate education placements, a lack of proper support and real difficulties for families.

“While some support is available, parents are quite rightly concerned that this is no substitute for an accurate diagnosis and targeted care. They are worried about the consequences for their children."

She added: “These issues have been growing for some time and I am worried that, without a clear plan to address long waiting lists, the problem will only grow.

“I hope that RDaSH will take these concerns seriously and do everything they can to deliver the high standard of care children in Rotherham deserve.”

After the trust’s last inspection in 2019, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found more than 1,200 children were waiting for an assessment and the list was growing, even though managers had “increased capacity through staff overtime and streamlined the assessment process to improve turnover”.

In a report, the CQC stated: “Referrals to the service had grown exponentially to between 60 and 70 per month but the service could only assess between 10 and 15 patients per month.”

Christina Harrison, Children’s Care Group Director for RDaSH, apologised to the children and parents who have been waiting for an assessment.

She added: “In Rotherham three percent of children have autism compared nationally to 1.5 per cent of the population and we are working hard with Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group and Rotherham Council to look at how we can work together to reduce the waiting times.

“Using a multi-agency approach when each referral is received, we are ensuring that additional support services are being considered while the young person is awaiting assessment. We are also using some additional support from a digital partner agency and up-to-date 284 children and young people have accessed an assessment in this way.

“Additionally, we have added further information to our CAMHS website specifically for those young people and families to support access to services.

“If any parents want to speak to us about this service, we would encourage them to contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service on 0800 0154334.”