Three-year wait for diagnostic service for kids

Harrogate District Hospital exterior.  101020M1a.
Harrogate District Hospital exterior. 101020M1a.

Parents and campaigners have challenged health chiefs after the Harrogate district was left with no way of diagning autism in children over seven years old.

The area has not been able to diagnose seven to 19 year old children with autism since Harrogate District NHS Foundation Trust’s (HDFT) service was stopped in 2009. Campaigners from the Harrogate branch of the National Autism Society said that no diagnosis leaves families struggling to get the support for their children.

The NAS group heard about plans to reinstate the over seven’s service at a public meeting on Friday, June 15, but campaigners are angry that plans to have the service up and running by April 1 this year did not come to fruition.

Kathryn Shaw, a senior commissioning manager for children’s services from North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (NYYPCT) told the meeting a full 0-19 service was commissioned for the Harrogate area, and due to start work within weeks.

After the meeting NAS Harrogate spokesman John Furlong welcomed the news, but said the group still had questions about why the area had been without a diagnosis service for older children.

“This is good news for parents trying and struggling to get help for their children and we want parents to know this service is coming so they can go back to their GP or paediatrician and push for their child to be assessed. We have had promises before so we will wait and see, but we are hopeful.”

He added: “We don’t feel like we have had answers as to why the service hasn’t been there.”

As of November 2011, Harrogate was one of only two areas in North Yorkshire without a full diagnostic service for children up to 19, contrary to national health care guidelines.

Although doctors can send patients “out of area” for services that are not available near their home, a Freedom of Information request by the Harrogate NAS shows that in the five years up to November 2011 NYYPCT received six requests for out of area assessments but did not grant any.

Confusion has also grown about the under sevens service, with some parents from the Harrogate NAS under the impression that even this had been suspended.

However, the HDFT, who provide the service, have confirmed that it is still assessing and diagnose children under seven while working to set up the older children’s service.

Recruitment delays new plans

A team of health and education workers from different fields are needed to diagnose a child with autism.

The team includes speech and language therapists and paediatricians, and must include a clinical psychologist.

Without a clinical psychologist, the Harrogate trust has not been able to confirm any diagnoses.

Julie Bolus, Director of Nursing at NYYPCT, said Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust is currently trying to recruit a clinical psychologist but delays in the recruitment process are slowing down delivery of the service for older children.