Autism and ADHD Assessments Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Autism and ADHD Assessments

Peter Gibson Excerpts
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his excellent leadership of the debate. I also thank the 38 people of Darlington who signed the petitions. In addition to those signatories, I have had correspondence from more than 40 constituents who have faced issues with assessments for autism and ADHD.

Since being elected to Parliament in 2019, I have engaged with many families in Darlington who have children with autism or are awaiting a diagnosis. We must do more to improve the speed of the assessments and improve our guidance to parents on the support and help available when a diagnosis is given. From the many conversations that I have had on this issue, I know that families feel alone and are often unaware of the full range of support that is available to them, either pre or post diagnosis. More than 300 people in Darlington under the age of 18 are awaiting an assessment. Some 40% of them have been waiting for less than a year, 40% have been waiting for up to two years and 20% have been waiting for almost three years. That is just not good enough. In the absence of a diagnosis, these families’ lives are on hold and these children’s lives are not progressing as they should.

On average, there are 40 referrals per month in Darlington, but as each month ticks by the number assessed is always less. The backlog of cases awaiting assessment will never go down, and that is simply unacceptable. I am aware that the petitions we are debating call for more funding—indeed, the answer in this place to every problem seems to be more funding—but this issue is about more than money alone. There are insufficient numbers in training, and recruitment to these challenging roles is not sufficient. Questions have to be asked of local service providers. What more could they do? For example, could weekend working or evening assessments help to clear the unacceptable backlogs?

Last Friday, I was pleased to visit Daisy Chain to learn about the services that it provides across the Tees Valley, and I place on record my thanks to Daisy Chain for all it does to help families in Darlington.

I regularly engage with Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust on this issue. As the Minister is aware, we cannot underestimate the challenges and circumstances that TEWV service users and their families face. I have raised concerns about the need to improve TEWV’s services on many occasions, in particular in the light of a recent unannounced inspection by the Care Quality Commission. Following the inspection, some services at TEWV’s mental health trust improved, but the trust’s overall rating remains “requires improvement”. The Minister is aware of the problems faced by my constituents, and I thank her for her extensive engagement with me on that issue. I hope she Minister will confirm that the Government will keep a laser-like focus on TEWV and do everything in their power to ensure that the trust continues to improve, as it is so desperately needed.

I warmly welcome the recently published review of special educational needs and disabilities. With the majority of children with SEND attending mainstream schools, it is right that the review proposes to improve the mainstream provision for children with SEND, including through an overhaul of the training for special educational needs co-ordinators. I also welcome the fact that more specialist places for children needing non-mainstream support will be made available, alongside an improvement programme for alternative-provision schools.

Last year, I tabled a number of written questions regarding the number of teachers and teaching assistants in each constituency who have undergone autism-related training and was disappointed to learn that the Government do not collate or collect any data on this issue. I ask the Minister to recognise the benefit of collecting that kind of data, which would show us where the educational system requires further work in providing support for children with autism, and I encourage holding data on teachers who have received specialist ADHD training, for the same reason.

The CQC’s report on TEWV, “Out of Sight”, acknowledges the shortcomings of some of our mental health facilities, the challenges they face with patients—particularly those who suffer with autism—and the sense that places designed for care are not therapeutic. I firmly believe that it is vital to embed a culture of learning, safety and improvement across the mental health care sector. I welcomed the recommendations from the report, which would address some of the shortcomings, and ask the Minister to update us on what action the Government took following the report.

When it comes to people with complex needs, I believe that a conversation is required with our local authorities, which are paying massive sums of money each and every month to out-of-area providers. In my view, some imaginative and collective commissioning could put an end to seemingly ever-increasing costs, much of which are taken up by astronomical transport costs.

We can go so much further for children with complex needs to ensure that there is proper support in place to allow them to flourish, but it starts with prompt diagnosis. I trust that the Minister has listened closely to all the contributions today and that she will do everything in her power to end the excessive waits and give these kids a chance.