Derbyshire residents are waiting up to three years for crucial autism assessments, with leaders saying they cannot quash the backlog without more money.
In a meeting on November 4, Ifti Majid, chief executive at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said the issue was “not good enough”.
Data published by the trust as part of the meeting shows that there are 1,312 people waiting for autistic spectrum disorder assessments.
The most recent average wait to be seen for an assessment is 69 weeks – a year and nearly four months.
Meanwhile, it says the longest wait is “about three years”.
Mr Majid said the people waiting for vital assessments are “in crisis”.
The trust said further investment is on the way next year.
The figures also represent a worsening position, with 31 more people on the waiting list and the average wait increasing by three weeks in the past two months, despite making the issue a priority and recruiting more staff.
Trust papers say it is currently funded to complete 26 assessments per month and it is managing to average 20 per month due to staff sickness and vacancies.
However, it says the trust would need to average between 54 and 67 assessments per month in order to “meet demand” – more than double what the organisation is funded to carry out and up to triple the trust’s current capacity.
Papers published by the trust say: “It is highly unlikely to see any significant change until there is a change to investment in the service.”
Ade Odunlade, chief operating officer, said during today’s meeting: “There has been a lot of concerted effort in ensuring that we are reducing the waiting list.
“The team have significantly reduced the waiting list and will continue to try and reduce the waiting list.”
He said the waiting list was the best it had been in the past three years.
As the Local Democracy Reporting Service detailed in September, the reports also show is that these delays were very much present before the pandemic, with the backlog not purely attributable to periods of healthcare lockdown.
In August 2019, far before the pandemic, the average waiting time was much lower, but still sat at higher than 30 weeks – more than seven months.
Likewise, while the number of people waiting for assessments – which are often crucial to securing essential support – was lower in August 2019, it still sat at more than 800.
Dr Sheila Newport, a non-executive director at the trust, said: “We have done a lot of work in autism and improved a lot of things, but the assessments obviously hasn’t come into that yet.
“Do we know what potential harm there is for people who are waiting on these lists, is it a priority?
“Are we happy that when investment comes next year that that will become something that we can really get stuck into?”
Mr Majid said: “No and yes, would be my answer. It is not good enough. There are now 45,000 people nationally that are waiting significant lengths of time for more than 13 weeks for an autism assessment.
“It goes further, as we have heard from various board stories, it is not just about the assessment it is then about how do we provide support, how do we increase resilience.
“We have committed already over a million pounds into the system in investment this year looking at this cohort of people who are in crisis.
“We need to be thinking about how we then move that and invest the money as it comes in next year, both in assessments but also more thinking about that community resilience.
“It is something we need to be focussing on.”
Autism assessments are frequently necessary in gaining required support in school for children with special educational needs – tied up in a legally binding document called an education, health and care plan.
Over the past few years, parents have told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the wait for ASD assessments appointments has meant their children go longer without the specific support they need – often outside of a mainstream school.
They have also explained that an ASD assessment is vital in securing the support needed for children who are on the autistic spectrum, without which it is difficult to get your foot in the door.
Meanwhile, there is a continuing issue with delays for children and adolescents seeking help for mental health issues, though the waiting list has reduced in the past two months.
The number of referrals for help is “steadily increasing”, but work to reduce the issue has helped to lower it.
Trust reports show there are 376 children and young people on the waiting list for mental health help and the average wait is 21 weeks – nearly five months.
The waiting list had been 480 two months ago but the average waiting list had been 18 weeks – four months.
A waiting list “blitz” throughout October aimed to carry out 320 assessments and hopefully reduce the longest wait to around six weeks.