Green Party want inadequate autism assessments & provisions changed in Southport

‘Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, and their families, are struggling, and we recognise their anger and despair.’ say Green Party Campaigners in Southport.

‘Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and their families, face appalling challenges every single day with health, education and the local authority in Southport.  The needs of people in these situations, are seemingly ignored over and again, in favour of endless bureaucracy”, said Rick Furness who is spearheading the Green Party campaign.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, members of the government state ‘Special educational needs and disabilities will be picked up at the earliest point with support routinely put in place quickly’, (SEND code of practice, January 2015).  Yet following a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Green Party, working in Southport now have evidence that shows ‘the reality in Southport is certainly not living up to these claims.’

The FOI request was made to Liverpool Community Health, who are just one of the local health trusts regularly attending to the needs of Southport’s SEND children.  The information returned, ‘highlights clearly, the incredible shortfalls in local assessments of children where, for example, autism is suspected’ say the Green Party.  These figures from Liverpool Community Health, were collected from an audit they did on the Autism Pathway for Sefton in April 2015, with one key recommendation being that ‘a separately commissioned unified pathway, with a single point of referral is needed for children undergoing autism assessment in Sefton’. The response goes on to say that ‘NICE recommendations cannot be met within existing resources’.  Where assessments for autism are concerned in school age children, the average age of referral to paediatrician was 5 years with diagnosis at 9 years.

Being a parent of children with Special Educational Needs in Southport, Rick believes that nothing has changed since this audit. “Imagine the stress and strain on families going back and forth in the ‘system’ for 4 years on average, with little hope of answers or a way forward, and looking at Southport specifically, things are even worse.’

On average, a child being assessed for autism, requires 4 separate referrals in Sefton, in contrast to the NHS’s own NICE guidelines, that state that a child should access assessment with one single referral.  One of these referrals will be to a Community Paediatrician, who has an 18 week waiting list on average across Sefton, which is inflated to 26 weeks in Southport specifically, compared to guidelines of 6 weeks.  According to the National Initiative for Autism Screening and Assessment, all autism assessments should be complete in 17 weeks.  Similarly, a tool often used by health professionals to help in the diagnosis of autism, called an ADOS, is regularly used in ‘uncertain’ cases across Sefton.  In Southport, the waiting time for an ADOS assessment was reported to be 28 weeks, compared to 12 weeks in South Sefton.

Green Party campaigners in Southport want to ‘Confront all the issues facing SEND children and their families, by first, focussing on the start of the process families have to endure; assessments.  The responsibility for commissioning of health services lies with Southport and Formby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). With delays in assessments occurring across separate local health trusts, and not with any one particular trust, we challenge our local CCG to work harder, to ensure that SEND children in Southport are assessed and treated in accordance with guidelines.’

Rick goes on to say ‘It makes much more sense, to commission an autism pathway that gets all the necessary health professionals in one room with the child being assessed.  Utilising tools already available for these assessments such as the ADOS, and having the people with the expertise around the child, it would enable a much more timely diagnosis where appropriate.  From that point, families can seek the relevant support to improve their child’s life chances.’


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