• Up to 800 children waiting for autistic spectrum and ADHD assessments in east Kent
  • Backlog mounted as private provider struggled to run service on the budget it was given
  • North East London Foundation Trust now attempting to cut waiting times

Up to 800 children have been waiting nearly two years for assessments for autistic spectrum conditions and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Kent, it has emerged.

Private provider Psicon, which was originally commissioned to carry out the assessments, said there was not enough money in its contract with four east Kent clinical commissioning groups to pay for the tests.

The firm stopped providing the service last September but is now offering a discount on private assessments to enable paying patients to skip long NHS waiting lists.

The children, all from the east of the county, had been referred to the provider from 2015 onwards in an attempt to reduce long waiting times to six to eight months.

The majority of those still waiting were referred in mid 2016 – although some referrals were older, according to a report to the Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee.

Psicon, which is based in Canterbury, said the budget provided for the service had not been enough to keep up with the demand for assessments and it provided high quality services in the face of “extraordinarily challenging circumstances”.

Assessment of the children on the waiting list – who were aged between eight and 11 when referred – has now been started by North East London Foundation Trust. The FT took over most children’s and young people’s mental health services in Kent, including those previously provided by Psicon, last September.

Because of the large number of unassessed referrals, the trust did not have the staff in place to review and assess them immediately. It has now screened 168 children and are booking them in for assessment. Another 150 are waiting to be screened and this number is expected to grow as families and schools return screening forms.

In a statement, the CCGs said they had put considerable resources into resolving problems with waiting lists for several services as NELFT took over mental health services.

“NELFT continues to work through data and waiting lists and are confident that these issues are being resolved. If there are any children identified as having waited for an exceptionally long period, these children are being given urgent priority for assessments,” said Hazel Smith, director of strategic commissioning partnerships in Kent and Medway.

The CCGs also said the contract with Psicon had been “a trajectory contract based on capacity and was not restricted” but had been aimed at reducing waiting times of two years plus to six to eight months.

NELFT said it had kept families informed of the progress of the ASC/ADHD waiting list and review process.

Psicon director Daniel Simmonds said there had been very specific restrictions on capacity within its contract with the east Kent CCGs. “The commissioners provided us with a budget and asked us to assess children accordingly. We were able to deliver the exact amount of assessments and medical reviews they required in line with their budget. The need for this service was overwhelming and, unfortunately, the budget was not sufficient to meet the demand.” He had provided regular detailed updates to the commissioners on waiting lists, he added.

When the contract came to an end in September, the company said it was “inundated” with requests for private assessments.

Its website currently offers a 20 per cent discount on private assessments, while suggesting the NHS waiting list “is only expected to grow”. Mr Simmonds said all parents on the waiting list were made aware of the change of provider by NELFT in November 2017.

“The working partnership between the East Kent CCGs was a very happy one and Psicon received excellent feedback for working efficiently, flexibly and cost effectively,” he said.