National Ombudsmen
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Warrington teenagers denied speech and language therapy

Fifteen autistic teenagers have been denied the speech and language therapy they needed for three years, an investigation has found.

The joint investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) and Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) into Warrington Borough Council and the then NHS Warrington, has led to speech and language therapy being restored to young people in the area.

The issue was brought to light when the parents of one of the teenagers contacted the ombudsmen in 2011 after discovering their son had not been receiving the specialist therapy since 2009. That therapy was part of his statement of special educational needs, and the council had a legal duty to make sure the support was provided.

The council had procured the service from the then NHS Warrington, and until 2009 the teenager received specialist therapy three times a year, with teachers at his special ‘designated provision’ unit using the therapist’s report to inform their teaching.

However, because of financial constraints, NHS Warrington stopped providing the service to teenagers with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in late 2009, without informing either the families or the council.

But it was not till the couple contacted Warrington BC in September 2010 that the council was made aware that the service had not been provided. Officers had thought the service was delayed because of staffing problems at NHS Warrington, and when the council wrote to the family, it wrongly told them that speech and language therapy was a health provision and not its responsibility.

The subsequent joint investigation by the LGO and PHSO uncovered a further 14 other teenagers similarly affected by the cuts.

In a linked investigation (ref: 10 021 572) carried out independently by the LGO, another teenager was denied speech and language therapy for three years.
Because of the lack of support, the boy’s family paid for private therapy sessions till the end of July 2012.

In this family’s case, Warrington BC has agreed to offer the family £5,000 to acknowledge its failure. The council will also pay an additional £750 to the teenager for the disruption to his education and the lack of support.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“The situation in Warrington is not an isolated case and I am aware of similar situations across the country. This failure to provide what is written in a child’s statement – and in particular speech and language therapy – is all too common a cause for complaint to me.

“Councils need to understand that they are ultimately responsible for ensuring that a child receives the educational provision set out in their statement. If they need to procure a service to meet that need, they are still responsible for that provision.”

Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said:

“This is a prime example of how, by coming forward to complain, a couple have achieved justice not only for their own child, but also for others with autism who were denied speech and language therapy.

“Complaining about public services takes courage and determination. But it can achieve results that have a positive impact that goes beyond just one individual case and results in improvements that affect many others.”

The council and Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS Warrington’s new body) have fully and without reservation accepted the joint investigation’s findings.

Following the investigation, the council has agreed create an action plan to establish how many young people have speech and language therapy written into their statements. It will fund therapy from a qualified therapist for all children with ASD who have that support written into their statements.

It will also ensure that it has procedures in place for identifying and responding to complaints involving the council and partners.

The council has agreed to apologise to the parents and pay the parents who brought the case to the attention of the ombudsmen £5,000 for failing to provide the therapy for three years. It will also give the teenager an additional £750 for the disruption to his education and refund the family the cost of an independent therapist’s report commissioned in 2011. Additionally, the council will give the family £250 in recognition of the frustration and distress caused to them

The CCG has agreed to apologise to the family and acknowledge its failings and also pay the family £500 in recognition of their distress.

It has also agreed to create an action plan detailing what it plans to learn from the report and how it will avoid any recurrence.

The 14 other young people affected by the lack of provision will receive the therapy and support they require as specified in their statements, or have those statements amended and, where they have not received the required support, they will receive a remedy similar to that of the original family.

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