Warwickshire psychiatrist says autism assessments for children must be sped up

The consultant psychiatrist said children have been left waiting too long for a diagnosis because the assessment process is long and elaborate

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A consultant psychiatrist with the organisation tasked with providing mental health and community services across Coventry and Warwickshire has called for changes to be made in relation to autism assessments.

Dr Ashok Roy was among a number of speakers from Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust addressing county councillors over autism waiting times - an area of concern flagged up by a recent Ofsted and CQC inspection.

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He told members of the joint children & young people and adult social care & health overview and scrutiny committee that there had been a big increase in referral numbers.

Dr Roy said: “There has been a flood of referrals to make sure that people get the official label so that they can then access help.

“Unless we break that link a little bit we will still be having this need to assess people and all we can do is to make the assessments less elaborate and long - sometimes they are way over the top of what is actually required. That is something we are going to have to do first and then we can say if people really need a label before they are entitled to support.

“You can have anxious children who should be supported and not be asked to wait for a diagnosis for a long period of time.”

Helen Stephenson, the trust’s associate director for learning, had earlier told the meeting that the waiting times for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis were a particular challenge.

She said: “It is fair to say that, post Covid, the number of referrals has considerably increased. We have looked to employ short-term fixed contract people to increase capacity and also to work with external providers to outsource further diagnostic assessments and complete the CWPT service.

“There is quite a disconnect between the commissioned capacity that we have and the capacity that we have proposed we need going forward.

“If we look at the pre-school children on the waiting list for Warwickshire, we are looking at 311 children waiting for a diagnosis.

To put that in context, the current commissioned clinical capacity is 15 assessments per month. In January we received 24 referrals for assessment and in November there were 62 in that 0-5 age bracket. So that really is why we are throwing whatever we can in relation to diagnostic capacity into that service.”

When asked by Cllr Jo Barker (Con, Shipston) how much of an impact the extra staff would make and at what cost, she added: “External providers believe they could probably offer an additional 60 assessments a month which will make a little dent into the backlog but not an awful lot. They are circa £1,800 per assessment so it eats into the money quite significantly.

“We have put in additional psychology and psychiatry capacity and that will bring another 30 assessments into play each month.”