Northern Ireland news

Autism treatment in north is 'postcode lottery', MLA says

Around 208 children in the Northern trust have been waiting for more than 13 weeks for autism treatment

AUTISM treatment is a 'postcode lottery', with hundreds of children in one health trust waiting more than 13 weeks for help, an MLA has said.

New figures from the Department of Health show a huge disparity in waiting times for autism spectrum disorder treatment across Northern Ireland's five health trusts.

Foyle SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin, who requested the figures, said she was deeply concerned by how long children are having to wait between being diagnosed with autism and getting professional help.

A total of 234 children have been waiting for treatment for more than three months.

The Northern trust was the worst performer, with 208 children waiting more than 13 weeks for treatment, according to figures from the end of September.

Only 25 children in the Southern trust, one in the Western trust and none in the Belfast or South Eastern trusts were waiting more than 13 weeks for help.

Dozens of adults who have been diagnosed with autism are also waiting for treatment.

Around 100 adults have been waiting for help for more than 13 weeks.

In the Northern trust alone, 42 adults have been waiting for autism intervention for more than 13 weeks.

In the Western trust, 27 adults were still waiting for help more than three months after they were diagnosed with autism.

Ms McLaughlin said disparities in waiting times across the five trusts were deeply worrying.

"I am extremely concerned at what might be regarded as a 'postcode lottery' when it comes to treatment of autism spectrum disorder," she said.

"The variation in waiting times is both astonishing and unacceptable.

"I was contacted by a constituent who was very unhappy about the waiting times for treatment in the Western trust area.

"While the minister's written reply shows that dozens of patients are waiting for treatment in the Western trust region, the situation is far, far worse in the Southern trust area and massively worse in the Northern trust area.

"The minister's action on this crisis is welcome, but it is very unfortunate that it has come to this situation."

In his reply to Ms McLaughlin, health minister Robin Swann said he was concerned by the waiting lists.

"The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) have been meeting with trusts who have lengthy waiting lists to determine the underlying causes and plans to address this," he said.

"This will be part of ongoing engagement to keep waiting lists under review.

"Alongside this, the HSCB have appointed a regional emotional health and wellbeing co-ordinator, which will include autism.

"Part of their role will be working with all five trusts to develop regional consistency in access to support and services across Northern Ireland."

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