Northern Ireland

Autism NI chief 'delighted' at £2m extra funding pledge

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Image caption Nearly 300 children in NI have to wait more than 12 months for an autism assessment

The health minister's pledge of an extra £2m has been hailed as "the biggest ever single investment in autism services in Northern Ireland".

Dr Arlene Cassidy, chief executive of Autism NI, said she was "absolutely delighted" at the news.

The money will be used to create 35 new posts across Northern Ireland in an effort to speed diagnosis.

Since 2010, the number of referrals for autism assessments has nearly doubled in five years from 1,500 to 2,800.

Image caption Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the money would be used to create 35 additional posts

There are nearly 300 children waiting more than 12 months for an appointment in Northern Ireland.

Announcing the additional money, health minister Simon Hamilton said such waiting times were "unacceptable".

Dr Cassidy told BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster on Monday that the minister had responded "so positively" to the building pressure from Autism NI, the all-party group on autism and a petition from parents.

"Parents are having to wait over two years in some areas," she said.

"We did a survey and about 70% of families were waiting over a year. The wording of the statement indicates this is recurrent money.

"So this is the greatest single investment in autism services ever."

Dr Cassidy said she had concerns about what happens later, after diagnosis.

"There is no mention of adults. There is no mention of transitions when children are leaving school or day centres and what that means. They are under great pressure as it is," she said.

"I am genuinely delighted but I know this is just the start of addressing the problem."

The extra funding will be used to create 35 new posts across Northern Ireland in an effort to speed diagnosis and cut waiting lists.

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