Rapid diagnosis of autism trial

Children and their families across the country are experiencing significant waits for an autism assessment and possible diagnosis. A quality improvement at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) aimed to help with this. The work is resulting in some children being seen faster.

KCHFT held a trial to rapidly diagnose children with ASD, in cases where specific criteria had already been met.

The trust took a close look at how things are done, with the aim of reducing wait times and the number of family clinic appointments between referral and diagnosis.

KCHFT’s consultant community paediatrician Dr Sunil Bhide led the project.

The trial saw average time from referral to formal diagnosis drop from 24.7 months, using conventional ways of working, to 12.9 months when the new way was used. The time families needed to spend in clinic appointments was almost halved. This was achieved by removing the need for professionals from different fields needing to carrying out the child’s assessment together, in the same room and instead, the consultant paediatrician having a detailed report from another health professional to hand and then being able to confirm the diagnosis.

Dr Bhide said: “We want to improve waiting lists and make it a better experience for families. Diagnosis has been done the same way for years and we wanted to challenge the way it is carried out, to make it quicker. This helps families to access appropriate support sooner and reduces emotional distress and uncertainty.

“Next we will be getting parent feedback, speaking with stakeholders and seeing if we can do things differently in the future, while adhering to NICE guidelines and best practice.”

Dr Bhide found two QI tools very useful during the project, process mapping, to see how families moved through the system and run charts, to show improvement.

Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Community Paediatrics Service provides diagnosis for children with a range of conditions in west Kent, Gravesham and Swanley.

Like the rest of the country, waiting times for this service have increased due to the Covid pandemic. In particular, the wait for an autism spectrum disorder assessment is now between 36 to 42 months for those children who need a full assessment.

Paediatric consultant Olufolakemi Durowoju, said: “We know this is a long time and the reasons for the increase in waiting lists are no consolation to the children and their families.

“We apologise for any distress this causes and we are focused on doing everything we can to see children faster. We have bolstered teams with support, are providing 30 extra assessments a month, have recruited a specialist teacher and educational psychologists, are piloting innovations and providing extra support to signpost children and their families.

“Please be reassured, you don’t have to wait for a diagnosis to access the majority of help available.”

Is your child waiting for a diagnosis? See our website for frequently asked questions www.kentcht.nhs.uk/childautism

Rapid diagnosis means Noah has the support he needs

“It was a bitter sweet moment when Noah was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. It’s not a diagnosis anyone wants, but at the same time, I was so relieved for it to be confirmed.”

Noah is one child who was rapidly diagnosed thanks to Dr Bhide. Read his story on the KCHFT quality improvement website at:  https://qi.kentcht.nhs.uk/rapid-diagnosis-of-autistic-spectrum-disorder/

  • Acute
  • Acute > Family Care
  • Leadership and Management
  • Leadership and Management > Quality and Performance
  • Leadership and Management > Quality and Performance > QI
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