84 per cent cut in NHS waiting times for autism referrals

Families awaiting a diagnosis are now being seen more quickly.
Families awaiting a diagnosis are now being seen more quickly.

Waiting times for Wakefield children referred for an autism assessment by the NHS have been drastically cut over the last four years.

Youngsters and their families who are sent to a consultant for a diagnosis are now waiting an average of 16 weeks for results, compared to 100 weeks in February 2015.

Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

Over the same time period, the waiting list for children referred to the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Pinderfields, Pontefract and Dewsbury hospitals, has fallen from above 800 to below 20 last December.

Allowing school nurses, as well as GPs, to refer a child for an assessment has been partly behind the fall in waits and there has also been a decline in the number of inappropriate referrals.

In other areas of the country, youngsters are still waiting more than three years for assessment, the National Autistic Society says.

Speaking about the improvement at a health and wellbeing board meeting on Thursday, the trust's chief executive Martin Barkley said: "This has been a real success story.

"It is now down to just 16 weeks. I say just in inverted commas but in comparison to 100 weeks that's still very good.

"Now children are waiting for not much longer than a term at school. It's really important that that service is provided."

The change was one of several recent achievements highlighted by the trust, which also include the introduction of a 24/7 accident and emergency department exclusively for children and a huge reduction in the number of patients suffering from bed sores.

Mr Barkley also said that an extra 300 staff had been recruited over the last year across all departments, which had eased an expensive reliance on agency staff.

He added: "We now have more doctors on full-time contracts than we did last year but our spending on them overall has fallen by £1m.

"That's a trick we have to repeat in the next financial year."

The trust was given a 'requires improvement' rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in December following a visit by the watchdog's inspectors last summer.

Reflecting on this and the current state of the organisation, Mr Barkley said: "It was disappointing that we got 'requires improvement' from the CQC, but on the other hand it was pleasing that they noted the improvements that have taken place and recognised the improvement journey the trust is on.

"We want to be an outstanding trust. That has to be the ambition."