Action plan to tackle Fife’s backlog of 1000 autism assessments

Face to face autism assessments are set to resume in Fife next month for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Mark Ruskell MSPMark Ruskell MSP
Mark Ruskell MSP

Concerns had been raised that the region was facing a 1000-long waiting list as a result of lockdown stretching back to March 2020 - and prompting one Fife MSP to raise the matter with health bosses and Kevin Stewart, Minister for Mental Wellbeing.

Mark Ruskell, Scottish Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, welcomed the return of face to face appointments - but said he still hadn’t seen the action plan how it would be tackled.

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He met last week with NHS Fife after describing the position in the region as “a debacle.”

He said the health authority had “failed to provide face to face autism assessments since the onset of the pandemic, leading to a huge backlog and families unable to access the support they need.”

Mr Ruskell said: “I welcome the Minister’s assurance that NHS Fife will restart assessments next month and will work to address the backlog but I haven’t yet heard how that’s going to be achieved.

“When I met with NHS Fife it was clear that the scale of the problem is understood but there’s still no concrete plan to address the backlog as a matter of urgency.”

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He said families were struggling and “rightly angry that a system which was meant to support them has completely let them down.”

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Mr Ruskell added: “Warm words and vague commitments to ‘work hard’ won’t fix this crisis. What’s needed is resources and a commitment to clear the backlog using a mix of online and face to face assessments. Without proper assessments young people will start the new school term struggling to access the right level of support.

“The young people and their families who’ve been waiting for so long for an assessment shouldn’t be expected to settle for anything less.”

A spokesman for NHS Fife said families were supported during the pandemic via a helpline and and video appointments.

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They added: “Th principles of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) were followed to ensure that children and young people who have autism, ​and require specific support from professionals, could continue to be supported.

“Fife has a multi-agency pathway for children and young people who require assessment if there is a suggestion of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“Like very many healthcare services, face-to-face autism assessments could not be safely carried out during the pandemic. ​

“While some assessments were carried out using the Near Me video appointment system, not all assessments could be carried out this way.

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“To ensure that families awaiting autism assessment were supported throughout, a helpline was established ​to provide advice on any issues that were causing concern to parents and carers at that time.”

Confirming the return of face to face assessments, the spokesman said: “We are finalising plans to enhance assessment capacity with additional staffing resources to ensure that those waiting to be formally assessed can be seen as quickly as possible.”

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