£100k funds for autism services

Autism services in Northern Ireland are to receive a £100,000 funding boost, the Health Minister has announced.

The money is to be spent on developing services to diagnose people with the condition.

Michael McGimpsey says it brings the total amount invested in treating autism to £1.64m from April 2011.

“This additional funding of £100k is further good news and will make a difference to the lives of people with autism and their families,” the minister said, making the announcement on Monday.

“Whilst the budget has not yet been determined for 2011 onwards, I shall endeavour to ensure that autism is prioritised across government departments.”

Mr McGimpsey added that, although the numbers of referrals related to autism has gone up, he is “determined” that waiting times for assessments will not exceed the department’s target of 13 weeks.

“I am pleased with the continuing reduction in waiting times for children to be assessed and diagnosed with autism,” the minister continued.

“This improvement has been achieved against an increase in referrals but I am determined that no child should have to wait longer than the current target of 13 weeks for diagnostic assessment.”

Local charity Autism NI, which has recently criticised the department’s provision for autism carers, said it “cautiously welcomes” the news.

In a statement the group warned that while it is “grateful”, the current level of funding is “considerably outweighed by the scale of the unmet need which has built up over the past number of years”.

It said: “The real significance, however, is the recognition that this gives to the need for Autism Spectrum Disorder specific services for adults, many of whom have waited years for the understanding and direction that comes with such a diagnosis. We are therefore extremely grateful to the Minister of Health for this first step.”

A plan called the Diagnostic Pathway for Children and Young People, aimed at ensuring early intervention for young autism sufferers, is to be implemented across the five Health and Social Care Trusts from December 2010.