£2.5million funding boost to reduce waiting lists for autism assessment in Hertfordshire

The funding was agreed by a joint meeting of the CCGs in Hertfordshire and West Essex last week

Health commissioners have agreed to a £2.5million funding boost to cut the length of time that children with autism have to wait for a diagnosis in Hertfordshire.

Currently there are 1,750 children and young people waiting for an autism assessment in the county – with patients having to wait an average of 12 months before they are seen.

And increasing levels of demand means waiting lists are getting longer – with 98 new referrals made every month.

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Now health chiefs have drawn up a £2.5million plan designed to slash the number of children waiting for assessment in Hertfordshire by 1044.

And on Thursday, March 25, the funding was agreed by a joint meeting of the CCGs in Hertfordshire and West Essex.

Presenting the proposals, David Evans managing director of the Herts Valleys CCG, said there had been an “exponential” growth in referrals for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) assessment.

He said services had been under “considerable” pressure for the past five years.

But over the past 12 months – with staff being redeployed to other areas, as a result of the Covid pandemic – he said waiting lists had grown further.

He highlighted national plans for autism assessments to be completed within 18 weeks of referral, in coming years.

And he said the plan for Hertfordshire was designed to reduce the backlog and to bring services in line with the proposed 18-week pathway.

Meanwhile Sharn Elton, managing director of the East and North Hertfordshire CCG, stressed the impact that the response to the Covid pandemic had had on waiting lists.

“There was a huge amount of work and progress had been made during the year prior to Covid to reduce the backlog,” said Ms Elton.

“[…] and so it’s with some disappointment that Covid has delayed things and meant that the transformational work that the teams had started – and that the success of that work – has been slowed down during the pandemic of the past 12 months.

“I know that’s true across lots of services, but it’s important to make that point today – so people understand why we are having to revise the business case and come back requesting further funding.”

According to the report that was presented to the meeting, the numbers of children waiting for ASD assessment are not evenly spread between the CCG areas.

There are currently 650 children and young people waiting for assessment in the area covered by the East and North Herts CCG.

And the report says that on average 28 new referrals are being made per month.

In the area covered by Herts Valleys CCG – which includes Watford, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans – there are currently 1110 children waiting.

There are reported to be an average of 70 new referrals each month and waiting lists are said to be growing more quickly.

To make waiting lists more equitable, says the report, different levels of investment will be required for each Trust.

And it was reported to the meeting that £665k would be directed toward the East and North Herts CCG area – and £1.769million toward Herts Valleys.

Estimates reported to the board suggested that clearing the backlog and reducing waiting times to ‘0’ would cost £4.6million over two years.