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Vast improvements needed in Norfolk’s autism service, watchdog finds

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 23:33 11 October 2018

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A health watchdog is calling for vast improvement to Norfolk’s autism services following extensive research with the families of children affected by the condition.

It was reported last year that families in Norfolk were waiting up to two years to be fully assessed and investigation by Healthwatch Norfolk has highlighted further frustration at the poor level of service many families feel they have received.

The report identifies the need for better communication with families, particularly in helping them to understand the assessment process as well as highlighting the need for greater autism awareness across all health and care services.

Further suggestions include improvements to current patient waiting areas, greater family involvement in the redesign of future facilities and better wrap around support for the whole family - as there is currently no dedicated ASD service for affected children following diagnosis.

Some 112 families took part in the study and it is estimated there are around 1,700 children in Norfolk affected by the condition.

One parent said: “Nothing has worked well. Every service is flawed and underfunded.”

Another said: “When you actually get to see the clinical psychologists, the quality of the diagnostic service and care is fantastic - knowledgeable people who communicate well with the child and parents. The problem with the assessment process is how long it takes.”

Alex Stewart, chief executive at Healthwatch Norfolk said: “While much of people’s negative experience relates to waiting times and access, in undertaking this study we were continually reminded of the impact this has on the child.

“Many of the families we spoke to felt that health professionals did not understand what its like to live with ASD and the effect it has on an individual’s everyday life. There is a clear need for greater engagement with families and a reassessment of the level of support offered.”

ASD assessment for children in Norfolk is currently delivered through neurodevelopmental services at the Newberry Child Development Centre in Gorleston, which is part of the James Paget Hospital and by Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC) from its main hospital site at Bowthorpe Road, Norwich.

Alan Hunter, head of community children’s services at Norfolk Community Health and Care (NCHC), said: “We welcome the Healthwatch report and its comprehensive analysis of the complex services for this group of children and young people with high needs. We are particularly pleased to note the positive feedback about the way our dental services manage the needs of young people with ASD and the quality of assessment and psychology contribution.

“We have been working with commissioners to bring down waiting times for assessments to commence. These waiting times have in fact dropped significantly since the survey closed following new investment in September 2017, which enabled us to increase staff numbers in these services. We are confident that waiting times for assessments to commence will be below 18 weeks by April next year.

“As part of our continuous review of our service information leaflets, our clinical leads are currently working with The All Age Autism Partnership Board to develop a more user friendly description of our ASD diagnostic service. In addition there is a range of information about the ASD diagnostic service available for download from the NCHC children’s services website.”

To read the full Healthwatch report click here.

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