Legal Questions Raised Of Bolton’s Autism Assessment Policy
Lawyers representing two Bolton men with Asperger syndrome who successfully challenged an NHS policy which prevented them from being assessed despite clear symptoms associated with the condition say they are concerned that people in a similar situation still may not get the help they need.
Specialist solicitors from Irwin Mitchell’s public law department successfully secured an autism assessment for a 35-year-old man earlier this year after NHS Bolton originally refused to fund it. The law firm has now secured a similar assessment for a 50 year old man with Asperger syndrome after he was denied help for almost two years.
The latest sufferer had lived with the condition without any help or support from the NHS, continually coming up against a wall of bureaucracy when requesting an assessment. That’s when “M” and his advocate turned to Irwin Mitchell for support.
Asperger syndrome is an “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)” and often includes problems with communication and social interaction which can be debilitating.
However, until now, the Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) only referred patients with suspected Asperger syndrome when they had an associated mental health issue, including learning difficulties. This set the hurdle for referral and treatment far too high, leaving the client without any hope for a diagnosis and treatment.
Through his advocate, M approached his GP asking for a referral – but was refused by Bolton CCG.
Irwin Mitchell threatened legal action against Bolton CCG, on the grounds that it should provide an assessment under the national Autism Act and Guidance as well as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence NICE Guidelines.
As a result Bolton CCG agreed for the client to be seen by a trial “screening panel” which would decide whether the client should be assessed. But when Irwin Mitchell pressed for information about how the panel would decide when to send a patient for assessment, Bolton CCG disbanded the panel and referred the client for immediate assessment.
However in a further frustrating turn for M, when he was finally assessed, a questionnaire used by the CCG was designed for American children and was insufficient for his needs.
After further discussion between Irwin Mitchell and Bolton NHS, the client was finally diagnosed positively with Asperger syndrome by clinicians at the Bolton NHS Trust and will now be provided with the appropriate treatment and support.
M’s advocate, said: “Living with Aspergers is hard enough without having to continuously pursue a diagnosis, without which we could not access much needed help and support. This has been an extremely distressing ordeal and we are relieved that we had the help of specialist lawyers behind us.”
The law firm has now successfully concluded two very similar cases but despite being able to help these two clients, Irwin Mitchell is concerned that because the policy itself has not been challenged in court, others may still be struggling to secure their own assessments from NHS Bolton.
Justin Neal, a specialist public law solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: