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People in Surrey Still Waiting for Autism Assessment After Four Years

Published on: 29 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 1 Jul, 2022

Hayley Connor (director for children’s integrated commissioning) and Liz Williams (strategic convener with a focus on learning disabilities and autism), inset.

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

People in Surrey have been waiting since 2018 for an autism assessment as more than 3,500 sit on the waiting list.

Just over 2,200 adults and around 1,500 children are now waiting to find out if they have the developmental disability, which could be impacting the way they communicate, learn, and interact with others.

Diagnostic teams have seen a surge in referrals since the pandemic – a three-fold increase for adults – but are finding it difficult to recruit the right people to tackle the huge backlog.

Surrey County Council’s adults and health select committee recommended the council “makes every effort to speed up diagnoses for its autistic residents”, at its meeting on Thursday (June 23) where Cllr Jonathan Hulley (Con, Foxhills, Thorpe and Virginia Water) said 3,700 waiting for a diagnosis was “a stark figure”.

Two out of every five adults waiting will not be diagnosed as autistic.

The council is trying to move away from a diagnosis being seen as the “passport and gateway to services,” said Steve Hook, assistant director for learning disability, autism and transition services.

He recognised that: “Many people in the autistic community find a diagnosis incredibly helpful personally, because it helps them make to sense of their world and themselves,” but added that one of the “key spines” of the council’s five-year all-age autism strategy introduced in 2021 was “to move away from this idea that you’re only going to get any help once you’ve got a diagnosis”.

The committee was told NHS England had provided funding for pre-diagnosis peer mentoring.

Clare Burgess, chief executive of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People, was assured by council officers that adults and children already on the waiting list would not be “offloaded without having an assessment”.

Liz Williams, strategic convener with a focus on learning disabilities and autism, said: “The people that are being seen now for their diagnoses in the adult space were referred in 2018 and 2019, so from that you can see how long people are waiting.

“The capacity in the team currently is for 36 diagnostics and they’re receiving over 100 referrals a month now, so you can see there’s this massive discrepancy.”

Similarly for children, “We had capacity to do 10 assessments a week and we were getting 18,” said Hayley Connor, director for children’s integrated commissioning.

She said things had improved since the assessments provider, Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SABP), commissioned external diagnostic support about a year ago, but there are still about 1,500 waiting.

They had hoped to eliminate the backlog with the new contract for Surrey’s emotional wellbeing and mental health service for children and young people last year going to the Alliance, now called Mindworks Surrey.

But, she said: “That transformation hasn’t happened at the rate that we would have wanted.

“Our access and advice service, just as the adult access, has been flooded with more demand than had been expected.

“There are significant issues in recruiting workforce in Surrey, like there is nationally.

“ND [the neurodevelopmental pathway] is one of my top commissioning priorities and it is also, I know, a top priority for the executive director in SABP for children and young person’s services.”

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