DUP MLA Gary Middleton has called for more funding to meet the needs of those with autism as Health Minister Simon Hamilton revealed the number of referrals of children and young people for assessment has nearly doubled from around 1,500 to close to 3,000 this year, but resources have not increased at a commensurate rate.
He said: “With referrals of children and young people doubling this year, the resources must reflect this increase. There is currently a shortage of around 20 to 23 staff which would cost approximately £1million to fund. The Health Minister recognises that more needs to be invested however the finance is not in place.
“I would call on those parties preventing the implementation of welfare reform to reflect on their stance and allow the money which is currently being handed back to Westminster to be spent on our heath service.”
Mr Hamilton said: “We absolutely need to invest more in getting staff into the front line. We estimate that around 20 to 23 whole-time equivalent clinical staff are required.
“The cost of doing that would be around £1 million of additional expenditure, so, when Members opposite roll their eyes about raising issues around welfare reform and the loss of £9·5 million every month, they should consider that £1 million out of that £9·5 million that is lost in one month would cover the increased costs.
“People take their positions on opposing welfare reform, but I hope that we can resolve those issues over the next number of days. That will, I hope, free up more resources to go into the front line to deal with waiting lists and other problems.
“There are consequences of taking the ideological position that some have taken in respect of welfare reform and not living up to the commitments that they made last year: we can see that in autism services, in waiting lists and elsewhere.”