Autism assessments delay sees Nuneaton councillor claim children are being let down

Mystery over why Warwickshire has such high demand - adding to waiting list pressure

Lengthy waits for autism assessments have prompted claims that Nuneaton and Bedworth’s children are being badly let down.
Lengthy waits for autism assessments have prompted claims that Nuneaton and Bedworth’s children are being badly let down.

Lengthy waits for autism assessments have prompted claims that Nuneaton and Bedworth’s children are being badly let down.

Cllr Jill Sheppard (Lab, Abbey) spoke out following a presentation to the borough council from mental health chiefs who gave an update on waiting lists in the wake of lockdown and staff shortages and their hopes of securing extra funds to help address the problem.

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The latest figures show that at the end of January, there were 714 children waiting for an assessment - with nearly 140 of those waiting at least three years. There were 110 pre-school children on the waiting list and 90 adults.

Cllr Sheppard said: “It looks like nothing is getting done in this borough in terms of supporting young people - 714 cases who have waited all that time. If you don’t get the funding, what’s going to happen?

“I think something has gone badly wrong within this authority and we are letting the children of the borough down badly.”

Helen Stephenson, from the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust, told an overview and scrutiny meeting on Thursday that the problem across the county was exacerbated by the large number of children and adults looking for autism diagnostic assessments (ASDs).

She said: “Nobody is going to sit here and defend those waits - we shouldn’t have those waits - but we are in the position we are at the moment.

“Across Coventry and Warwickshire, the clinical commissioned capacity is less than 50 per cent of what is required. We would probably have the capacity to deliver 60-64 assessments per month but what we are getting is between 135 and 140 referrals so you can see how those waiting times have started to accrue quite quickly.”

Ms Stephenson added that the Trust was waiting to hear the outcome of a funding request but said there was no quick fix and that it would take until April 2024 until waiting times are down to 13 weeks which is the national target.

She said: “We are looking at a lead in time of three to four months for recruitment to take place but you have to bear in mind there is a national shortage of qualified physicians so they are having to be recruited and trained.

“It is worth noting across Coventry and particularly Warwickshire, the demand for autism assessments is significantly higher than most other areas. Other areas are between 1-2 per cent but Warwickshire is around 4 per cent of the population. We have worked with a number of colleagues to try and ascertain why the referral rate is significantly higher but I can’t give you a cast iron answer.”