Praise given to Portsmouth for special needs provision but authorities are told to improve support for autistic children

SUPPORT for young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) across Portsmouth has been praised – but the authorities have been told they must improve diagnosis and help for children on the autistic spectrum.

Cllr Suzy Horton, cabinet member for education, is pleased with the overall SEND report. Suzy is pictured outside the Harbour School, one of the city's main SEND providers.
Cllr Suzy Horton, cabinet member for education, is pleased with the overall SEND report. Suzy is pictured outside the Harbour School, one of the city's main SEND providers.

The inspection in July looked at services provided by Portsmouth City Council, Solent NHS Trust and other organisations, found ‘strong leadership’, ‘collaborative approach’, and ‘improving attendance rates and outcomes’.

It warned that autistic children have to wait ‘too long’ to get a diagnosis – but health bosses have promised this will be improved by March next year.

The report, by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, said: ‘Strong leadership in the local area is leading to the successful implementation of SEND reforms with leaders' well-constructed plans for further improvement successfully encouraging a collaborative approach.’

Inspectors also highlighted the role of co-production – the consultation of parents, carers and young people. 

Cllr Suzy Horton, the city council’s cabinet member for education, said: ‘I'm glad that inspectors have praised our SEND offer; especially the strength of our partnership working with health services, parents and the young people themselves - which puts their needs at the forefront of the services we are shaping.’

The report also praised the council on its mental health drop-in clinic which ‘is popular and well used’.

The biggest area of concern for the inspectorate was the period of time families had to wait for an assessment for children potentially on the autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and the provision of subsequent support.

The report stated: ‘Children over six years waiting for an ASD assessment can wait up to 48 weeks before they are seen by a specialist. Additionally, children and young people who obtain a diagnosis of ASD do not receive any post-diagnostic support from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) despite the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance.’

The British Medical association recommends an assessment referral should be within three months. 

It’s a situation familiar to Helen Barter, 43, who has a 10-year-old daughter with autism.

Helen, who runs the children’s disability group, Stand-up, said: ‘For some families to have to wait almost a year is unacceptable. At least once you have a diagnosis then you can start to deal with it. Having a diagnosis also helps to open up various avenues of support.’

While pleased with many aspects of the report, NHS Solent accepted that assessment waiting times need to  improve. 

Sarah Austin, Solent NHS Trust chief operating officer, said: ‘We do acknowledge that there are areas for improvement as highlighted in the report. In line with many CAMHS across the country, demand continues to rise and unfortunately this has increased waiting times for children and their families, which is mirrored nationally. Since May 2019, Portsmouth CAHMS has been taking proactive steps to reduce these wait times. We expect to be able to offer assessments within the routine 18-week wait time by March 2020.’