Maximum waiting times for autism diagnosis needed

The Government could make a “massive difference” to people’s life chances by introducing a maximum waiting time standard for an autism diagnosis, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.

In a Westminster Hall debate, the North Norfolk MP highlighted the dreadfully long waits some children in Norfolk are facing before they receive a diagnosis of autism, as well as being “pushed from pillar to post” because of a lack of joined-up care between mental health and autism services in the NHS. 

Under the current national standards, people with possible autism should have their diagnostic assessment started within 3 months of their referral. However, there is no maximum waiting time standard from referral to a final diagnosis of autism.

Norman pointed out the injustice that while some families are able to pay privately for a diagnosis or ask their MP to intervene to speed up the process, other families who can’t afford to go private or who “don’t know how to battle the system” are too often left waiting interminably.

Calling on ministers to address this, Mr Lamb said: “There is an absolute obligation on the Government to set a national maximum waiting time standard not just for the first appointment, but for achieving the diagnosis to give those families hope.”  An early diagnosis and early intervention “can make a massive difference to your life chances”, he argued, giving individuals a “good, fulfilled life” with “significantly improved” employment prospects.

Commenting after the debate, he said:

“Young people’s futures are being effectively undermined because they don’t receive an early diagnosis of autism. This often means they don’t get the additional support they need at school, college or in the workplace.

“I have been particularly concerned about the situation in Norfolk, where I have been contacted by several families telling me that their child faces a wait of up to three years for a diagnosis.  It’s utterly scandalous – but this reflects the situation across much of the country. 

“The current guidance on autism diagnosis falls far short of what’s needed. Even if someone starts their assessment within 3 months of being referred, in line with the national target, it can often take years for the diagnosis to be completed and nobody is held to account. I hope today’s timely debate will spur the Government on to introducing an ambitious waiting time standard for a final autism diagnosis, and make the necessary investment in local services so that this target can be met.

“In Norfolk I am pleased that action is being taken to end the practice of children being referred across from the mental health trust to Norfolk Community Health and Care in circumstances where a child has both mental health problems and needs an autism diagnosis. I met with the chief executives of these two trusts and they have responded positively to the need for a joined up approach.”

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