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Warwickshire's autism assessments need to be speeded up

Waiting times for autism assessments need to be slashed by nearly 95 per cent if Warwickshire County Council is to meet targets set as part of an Ofsted inspection of their SEND services.

And according to health and wellbeing delivery manager Rachel Barnes, they need to hit that figure in just over a year.

Addressing a meeting of the children and young people overview and scrutiny meeting, she updated councillors on the progress made since the start of the year.

Speaking in the wake of a monitoring meeting with representatives from the Department for Education and NHS England, she said: “They really commended the pace of our improvements and they could see visible progress against all the key areas of concern.”

Outlining improvements in the waiting times for autism assessments, she added: “The longest waits have reduced considerably down from 242 weeks at the beginning of the year to 195 weeks so that is on the trajectory that was set – but just to say that referrals were a lot higher than forecast, being 70 per cent up. There is some analysis now to look at why that is happening and interestingly there is a much higher proportion of girls.”

Committee chair Cllr Yousef Dahmash (Con, Hillmorton) asked how many referrals there had been and if there was a reason for such a big increase.

Ms Barnes said: “There have been more than 1,500 over the past 12 months and that’s versus an expected level of about 1,000.

“Partners are doing the analysis as we speak but it has been complicated by a cyber attack on national NHS ICT systems making it quite difficult to get the case file information. I believe there is an impact that they are seeing post Covid across mental health services in general.”

And in response to a question from Cllr Brian Hammersley (Con, Bedworth Central) about what the waiting times should be, she added: “The target is 13 weeks in line with NICE guidelines and that’s by March 2024. “

Ms Barnes went on to say that more schools had taken advantage of training sessions for teachers and sessions for school governors were also planned.

She said: “We have had 80 schools to date this year take up the autism training out of 250 schools and that is in addition to the 50 per cent that did the training last year. We are aiming for all schools to take up the training.”

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