THE HSE has been forced to hire private operators to carry out autism assessments in Cork in a bid to alleviate pressure on the system here, The Echo can reveal.
A spokesperson for the HSE’s Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said initiatives were being undertaken due to long waiting lists for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) assessments.
The assessments are needed to ensure children with autism can access the required services as early as possible.
“In an effort to address the long waiting lists for ASD assessments, we are working with the voluntary service providers to increase the number of assessments completed within each service provider,” the HSE spokesperson said.
“Additionally a waiting list initiative has commenced following a procurement process for ASD assessments only.”
Services have transferred to two new facilities – the primary care centre in Carrigaline and St Mary’s Primary Care Centre.
While the HSE would not comment on the cost of this arrangement, private assessments, in general, can cost around €1,500.
The Echo revealed on Monday that services in the Cork region are under severe pressure with approximately 100 children being referred for an Assessment of Need (AON) in Cork every month.
Information obtained from the HSE revealed that all of the Cork agencies that “provide assessments and interventions to children diagnosed with ASD are experiencing very high volumes of referrals.”
“The level of need far exceeds the resources available,” said the HSE.
Children and young people born on or after June 1, 2002, who are suspected of having a disability can apply for an AON under the Disability Act (2005).
The child is then referred to stage 2 if appropriate, which is for clinical assessment.
Karen O’Mahony, founder and CEO of the Rainbow Club, a Cork-based autism charity, said it is “extremely worrying” that it has come to this.
“They are admitting they are overwhelmed with the demands and obviously understaffed to cater for this,” she said.
The HSE has been reluctant in the past to accept a diagnosis of ASD that was given outside the HSE as a referral for support services and intervention.
“I do think parents are going to be very slow to trust that system as they don’t trust the HSE anymore,” said Ms O’Mahony.
“They are afraid of being told again at a later stage that these assessments won’t hold up giving supports to children.”