The Ulster Unionist Party has revealed that the number of children currently waiting for an autism spectrum assessment has increased by 280% over the last five years. Through an Assembly Question it has been exposed that the number of children across Northern Ireland currently waiting for an assessment has increased from 607 in 2012 to 2,325 in the same period this year.
Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, said:
“These figures starkly illustrate that the waiting list crisis engulfing our hospitals has spread to autism services.
“I am shocked at just how dramatic the rise has been in the number of children waiting for an essential autism assessment. Whilst some of this can be explained by a significant increase in the number of referrals, it is yet another example of where demand is now far outstretching capacity in the local health service.
“It is widely accepted that early intervention is far more cost effective, but even more importantly it is beneficial for young people. Receiving a timely diagnosis can enable parents to better understand their child and ensure that they have access to crucial help and support.
“Unfortunately, it often takes a couple years in the school system before families realise there may be a problem. If they are then forced to wait a couple more years for an assessment by that stage they’ve potentially lost much more ground and their long-term learning could be negatively impacted.
“Whilst I am glad that in the response to the Assembly Question the Health Minister does appear to agree that the current unprecedented pressures in our health service are unacceptable, it will take much more that sporadic funding allocations to get on top of the spiralling waiting lists for autism services. The very first thing that needs to happen is ensuring we have a sufficient workforce that has the capacity to deliver these assessments, for until we do waiting times will inevitably continue to deteriorate.”