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Two-year waits for child mental health assessments in Shropshire

By Lisa O'Brien | Shrewsbury | Health | Published:

Children across Shropshire are waiting up to two years for an important mental health assessment.

More than 130 children across Shropshire have been waiting more than a year for assessments to be completed for conditions including autism, and some are still waiting after 24 months.

Health commissioners have confirmed there are 196 young patients in total on the waiting list in Shropshire and 110 in Telford & Wrekin.

Dr Julie Davies, director of performance and delivery at Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said the Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has raised concerns regarding the number of children waiting for autistic spectrum disorder assessments.

It comes amid concerns children and their parents are being let down when they are at their most vulnerable.

Urgent meetings have taken place between the trust and both Shropshire & Telford & Wrekin CCGs.

Investment

Speaking to the CCGs governance board, Dr Davies said: “We’ve both agreed some investment that will reduce the waits, because some of those children and young people have had long waits of over 12 months.

“We have prioritised investing to clear that as quickly as possible.

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“However, we do need to do a broader piece of work that understands the real underlying demand for this service, what capacity we need to commission from the provider and also it is around skills and competency of staff to provide those assessments in the volumes that we need.”

She said the CCG was committed to resolving the issue as quickly as possible, but finding a “sustainable solution” would not be easy.

Figures supplied by the CCG show 75 young patients have now started their assessments, but 132 children and young people across the county have been waiting more than a year for assessments to be completed. The issue was also raised during a meeting of health commissioners in Telford.

Ex-hospital boss: Children are being 'let down'

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Children facing long waits for a complete mental health assessment are being let down, a former hospital boss has said.

David Sandbach

Former Princess Royal Hospital chief executive David Sandbach raised the issue to Telford & Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group’s governance board, saying those children were being let down.

Board members were told 75 children in Telford and Wrekin had waited a year for a complete mental health assessment.

Executive commissioning lead Fran Beck said they were working to reduce assessment times for all 323 young patients currently waiting, and prioritising those who had waited longest.

Christine Morris, executive nurse at the CCG, added that many children’s assessments were already part completed, and some were just waiting for the “final stop”.

When asked how long those children had waited on average, Mrs Beck said: “We know the waits of all those children. I can’t answer the specific question about the average, but we know there are a number of children who have waited for two years.

“These are children who are specifically waiting for assessments for autism. It’s not all of our mental health children.

“Many children have waited too long, we know that.

“The reality is, whatever we do to manage this particular cohort of children, it’s going to be months because there are gaps in capacity.

“We know 75 of the children have waited for one year, and our priority is going to be dealing with those, because they have waited the longest.”

Crucial

The National Autistic Society, the leading UK charity for autistic people, says far too many autistic people have to wait many months, sometimes even years for a diagnosis and support, just because of the poor or overstretched services where they live.

Tim Nicholls, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, said: “Getting an autism diagnosis is a crucial milestone, helping autistic people and their families unlock vital support, enabling them to take control of their lives.

“Long waits can be traumatic for autistic people and their families, who are often desperate for help. Without that help, many develop mental health problems like anxiety and depression and can be pushed to crisis point.

“NHS England’s Long Term Plan pledged to bring down waiting times for children. But to do this they must hold local areas to account by creating a new waiting time standard which makes clear that no one should wait more than three months from being referred to their first appointment – just like they do for mental health and many other conditions. And they need to do this for adults too. Without this, NHS England won’t be able to honour its promise to autistic people and their families.

“Unless each area is held to account for bringing down their own waiting times, we won’t see the vital improvements that autistic people and their families desperately need.”

Together

MPFT says it provides the autism assessment service but all the relevant health and care organisations are working together to resolve this issue.

A representative for the organisations involved told the Shropshire Star: “We know there is a problem with waiting times for an autism assessment and we would like to apologise to the children and young people, their parents or carers who have been waiting longer than they should.

“We have experienced unprecedented demand in recent years, which reflects a national trend.

“NHS organisations are working with council colleagues and schools to find a short-term solution that gives priority to those who have waited the longest.

“We are also exploring options for providing support once a diagnosis has been made.”

  • Has your child been affected by long waits? Get in touch on 01952 241434.
Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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