PLANS to create a cross-party working group to examine autism provision in Darlington are progressing, a councillor has said, following concerns over the length of time it is taking to diagnose the condition in the town.

A call has been put out for the different political parties on Darlington Borough Council to nominate representatives for the group, which is being set up alongside the North East Autism Society and other partners, including schools.

Earlier this week, Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said children in her constituency are waiting up to 18 months for an autism diagnosis.

Her concerns come after Newbus Grange hospital in Darlington, which provides care for people with learning disabilities and autism, was placed into special measures after inspectors found 'unexplained' injuries to patients, staff asleep on duty and strong smells of urine.

The hospital was given an inadequate rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) just five months after being rated outstanding in December 2018.

Proposals for the working group are part of the council's drive to make Darlington the UK’s most autism friendly town.

The Northern Echo:

Councillor Rachel Mills, Cabinet member for Adult Social Care, said: “I am calling on all parties across the council to put forward representatives to form an effective cross party working group to specifically examine autism provision and services in Darlington.

“It is important we, as the local authority, lead from the front in our interactions with and support for people with autism and neurodiversity.

“The recent announcement about the Cygnet facility at Newbus Grange adds to the urgency.

“It is imperative we make a start and forge a way to hold providers more accountable, champion best practice and build on some of the work already done, by us as an authority and our partners, to help create a positive environment here in Darlington where people with autism and neurodiversity and their families feel safe and supported, are resilient, included in our communities and can thrive.”

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 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.”