CHILDREN in a North-East town are waiting up to 18 months for an autism diagnosis, an MP has claimed.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said it was "outrageous" that children in her constituency were waiting so long to be diagnosed.

Raising her concerns in the House of Commons earlier this week, Ms Chapman described the situation as "dire."

The Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust admitted they had seen an increase in demand and were recruiting additional staff as a result.

Ms Chapman said: "We have children waiting 18 months for an autism diagnosis. If you are eight and waiting that long without support, you will never get that time back – it is outrageous.

“I’ve visited a school in Murton where their Place2Be scheme is the best example of a preventative approach (to mental health) and the fact that that is not available in any school in Darlington is a real shame. Darlington has not been anywhere near ambitious enough in what it provides, and I don’t see a sense of urgency.”

Edward Argar, Minister of State for Health, agreed to meet with Ms Chapman to discuss her concerns.

He added: "Improving mental health and services for those with mental health needs is at the heart of this government's agenda.

"The government has already announced investment of more than £400m improving mental health services since 2017.

Michelle Trainer, head of child and adolescent mental health services for Durham and Darlington, said: “We have seen increased demands on our local CAMHS services, as is the case nationally. We recognise that this increased demand has impacted waiting times and we are working with commissioners, parents and carers and children and young people to address this and to ensure that the mental health needs of young people and children are met as quickly as possible.

“We are recruiting additional staff to the County Durham and Darlington CAMHS autism assessment service, which we hope will reduce our waiting times over the coming 12 months. In the meantime, we are also looking at additional initiatives to support carers and parents whilst they are waiting for assessment.