Derry MLA’s alarm as only around 20 adults diagnosed with autism in 5 years

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SDLP Mark H Durkan has called for urgent action to tackle lengthy waits for adult autism assessments and has asked the Health Minister, Robin Swann to take steps to improve the service, which had been delayed as a result of the pandemic.

There are currently 1,274 individuals awaiting assessment across the North, with 812 waiting in excess of 52 weeks.

In figures released to Mr Durkan via an Assembly Question, the Department for Health revealed there were 12 adult autism diagnoses in the Western Trust in the year to March 31, 2022 with zero diagnoses for the years 2019 and 2020, and less than five adults diagnosed in both years ending March 31, 2018 and 2021.

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This compared to 1,668 children being diagnosed in the Western Trust over the same period.

Mark H. Durkan Foyle MLA. DER2030GS - 012Mark H. Durkan Foyle MLA. DER2030GS - 012
Mark H. Durkan Foyle MLA. DER2030GS - 012

Adult diagnoses were also lower in the west compared to adult diagnoses elsewhere. The Trust with the highest number of men and women diagnosed over the five years was the Northern Trust (350, with data for one of the five years not available) followed by the South Eastern Trust (201), Belfast (85) and Southern Trust (21 - data for two years not available).

The Foyle MLA said: “It is concerning that while autism prevalence is on the increase, the Western Trust consistently has the lowest rates of adult autism diagnoses in the North.

“As of 31 March 2022 there were 188 adults awaiting assessment in the Western Trust area, 89 of which are waiting over a year. It is important to note that prevalence figures for adults are most likely outdated and inaccurate according to Autism NI. While I welcome the fact the increase in referrals is testament to a rise in awareness of the whole spectrum, the low diagnoses rates for adults is cause for concern.

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“A formal and timely autism diagnosis is vital to ensure people can access available support services and appropriate benefits. From helping secure reasonable adjustments at an individual’s place of work or learning, a diagnosis opens a door of understanding and support which makes daily life that bit easier for adults with autism.”

Mr Durkan added: “Minister Swann, in response to concerns which I raised on the inadequacy of autism spectrum disorder services for adults, has acknowledged that this issue must be addressed. The review of autism services was delayed due to the pandemic however autism services have been consistently underfunded year after year.

“The shortfall in both financial and workforce resource is evident and has been for the best part of a decade. No one should be left fighting for support or falling through the huge gaps in service.”

Mr Durkan also warned that progress in this area as in others ‘has been further halted by the instability of institutions’ and the DUP’s decision to collapse the Executive.

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The Health Minister said: “My Department is aware that services and support for adults who are waiting for assessment or who have received an autism diagnosis within the health and social care sector must be addressed.

“This was highlighted as an action in the Autism - Interim Strategy for the years 2021 and 2022 and a review of services was to be undertaken by the Health and Social Care Board and recommendations made to the Department.

“Whilst this work has been delayed as a result of the pandemic, my Department will be engaging with Health and Social Care colleagues to obtain a clear picture regarding how consistency in provision of service and support across the region can be improved.

“However, it is clear that additional resource, both in funding and workforce, will be required to progress activity alongside a strategic planning and commission approach to understanding population need, current service provision, gaps in service and alternative models of care and support for adults with presenting need.”