An innovative new Hub to streamline autism assessments for young people in Bristol and South Gloucestershire has been opened by the Community Children’s Health Partnership (CCHP).
The new approach allows most children and young people referred for an autism diagnostic assessment to be assessed in a single visit, with access to a wide range of clinicians in one place on the same day.
Depending on each young person’s need they will be seen by a two or more specialists, including Speech and Language Therapists Specialist Nurses, Clinical Psychologists, Community Paediatricians and Early Years Practitioners. Some children will continue to be seen for an autism assessment in their locality (clinic, school or early years setting) dependant on their individual need.
This system has been set up following feedback from parents of children with autism who wanted assessments to be more coordinated and faster. It also aligns with the NHS Long Term Plan which has support for children and young people with autism as one of its five key focuses for young people.
The Autism Hub and associated written material has been co-designed with parent/carer groups. Detailed information can be found here.
Parent/carers and young people themselves can self-refer. Referrals can also be made by a school, GP or other health professional.
Initial plans to launch the Hub in April were postponed due to the response to the coronavirus pandemic, however, following the easing of lockdown restrictions the hub at Throgmorton House, Knowle in South Bristol (formerly Illminster House) has now opened for assessments by appointment.
All referrals are triaged by a specialist team of health professionals, and parent/carers will be contacted following the receipt of the referral and provided with more information about the assessment and waiting times
The hub is a partnership between Sirona care & health, Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG), Barnardo’s, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership, Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council, and Bristol and South Glos Parent/Carer Forums.
Jo Marie Shanks, Parent Carer Representative, South Gloucestershire Parents and Carers, said: “As a parent or carer, we want to understand our child's needs quickly and to the fullest. Seeing individual clinicians at separate locations and appointments has in the past made the diagnosis process and waiting-lists too long. Support had in the past been dependent on a diagnosis which has left some families isolated and struggling. We have welcomed being included in this project representing the Parent Carer voice and experience. We are excited by the innovation of seeing clinicians in the same place and at the same time and by the potential for positive impacts on families whose children are awaiting a diagnostic assessment."
Jenny Theed, Sirona’s Director of Operations, said: “We are committed to involving parents, carers, children and young people to ensure services meet their needs and they have been key partners in developing this approach.
“We are delighted to launch this initial assessment day with various clinicians as it will ensure the specific needs of each young person can be assessed at the same time reducing the need to be referred elsewhere. This is a really big step forward for children with autism and their families in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
“During the pandemic the team have been able to complete some assessments using digital platforms. For some young people and their families, this may be the preferred option. However, for many children and young people a face-to-face assessment is essential to assess the child’s social communication skills and to fully understand the child’s strengths and needs.”
Deborah El Sayed, Director of Transformation at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG said: “This a fantastic piece of partnership working, led by Sirona, which will really help to make improvements for children and their families. We have heard from families what really matters to them and recognise the process of being diagnosed with autism can be worrying and needlessly lengthy. This new service will help to address that, by providing answers more quickly and offering easier access to the support services and healthcare professionals required.
“Providing effective support to children and young people is a key priority for us, underpinned within our long term plans, so I am delighted to see this service launch in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.”