Children failed by long wait for autism support

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CHILDREN and teenagers with mental health problems in Sheffield are having to wait for almost a year to receive help from the NHS, officials have admitted.

Senior NHS staff revealed there are hundreds of families on the waiting list and some are having a delay as long as 44 weeks to access support.

The admission was made at a Sheffield Council meeting where a group representing parents and carers of city children who have autism-related problems told of their concern that mental health support services are strained after having funding cut.

Asperger’s Children and Carers Together (ACCT) representatives told a meeting of Sheffield Council’s children, young people and family support scrutiny committee there were ‘clear inadequacies’ with the city’s child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS).

The group said children and teenagers feeling suicidal have been unable to get help.

Liz Friend, ACCT vice-chairman, said: “This is in no way a reflection of the quality service provided – rather the capacity of the service is insufficient to meet demand.

“CAMHS is failing to meet reasonable intervention times of the majority of children and young people referred for community teams.”

NHS officials told the committee there are 457 families waiting for appointments with community teams, with 260 waiting more than 18 weeks – 44 weeks the longest wait.

ACCT is calling for funding to be restored to the community service to reduce waiting times to a maximum of 18 weeks.

Tim Furness, deputy director of strategy at NHS Sheffield, said he recognised ‘something has gone wrong when a suicidal child can’t access CAMHS support’.

He said the service was working to improve efficiency but 2011/12 was a transitional year when fewer patients could be seen, meaning temporarily-longer waiting times.