It has emerged that the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) were unable to spend half of the funding it received for key autism services. And it can also be revealed that the WHSCT was the only one of the five health trusts in Northern Ireland who were unable to allocate the entirety of this funding.

The Impartial Reporter can also reveal that over the past two years the number of children waiting for an autism assessment has almost doubled, from 487 to 827, in the Trust area, a fact local SDLP Councillor Garbhan McPhillips has described as “shocking and very disappointing”.

In relation to the funding £56,000 was allocated to the WHSCT from the Department of Health as part of the Autsim Reform Pathway Project. The Trust, however, did not utilise £28,192 of that funding with the money returning to the DoH with Councillor McPhillips describing this decision as “baffling”.

In a statement from the Trust to the Impartial Reporter it said: “The Western Trust was in the process of recruitment however, the funding provided was time-limited and unfortunately the funding was withdrawn prior to the recruitment process being concluded.”

The other four health trusts did utilise this funding in its entirety. The Impartial Reporter asked the WHSCT at what point the funding became available and at what point the recruitment process was began but at the time of going to print had not received an answer.

The funding, according to the Trust statement, “was allocated to appoint Early Intervention Practitioners and Support Workers within the Trust to deliver a range of interventions to support young people and their families, and improve their outcomes”.

The statement also said: “Due to the non-recurrent nature of Transformation Funding, allocations were made on a one year only basis with projects closely monitored throughout 2018/19.”

The returned funding was first reported in the Derry Journal newspaper when it was revealed that SDLP MLA, Mark Durkan, had received confirmation from

The DoH that the WHSCT was the only one of the five Trusts in Northern Ireland not to use its full allocation of funding for the Autism Reform Pathway Project for 2018/19.

The Trust confirmed to the Impartial Reporter that there has been significant increases in the number of children awaiting autism assessment.

“In relation to Children’s Autism Services the total number of children waiting for assessment as at 31 July 2017 was 487; 31 July 2018 was 600 and 31 July 2019 was 827.

“The Trust apologises for the length of time waiting for both assessment and intervention and is committed in its efforts to reduce waiting times and enhance service provision for children with a diagnosis of Autism and their families across the Western Trust area.

“The Trust would welcome funding to assist with this aim.”

Mr. Durcan’s party colleague, Councillor McPhillips was stunned at the increase in children waiting for assessment:

“Firstly I find these figures for children waiting for assessment both shocking and very disappointing. For the number to increase so dramatically from 487 in July 2017, to 827 in July 2019 is staggering.

As with all walks of life the health and well being, and looking after our children is to all families the most important thing,” he said, before adding:

“Of course funding is playing a major factor in this issue. In my view this increase in children waiting to be assessed needs to be matched with funding to cope with the demand.

“Another factor that baffles me is the fact the Western Health & Social care trust handed back a major chunk of the funding awarded.”