There is a crisis in children’s mental health services in the United Kingdom which means neurodivergent children are waiting up to five years for an initial appointment on the National Health Service (NHS), according to figures obtained by The Observer.
Evidence of this waiting time is demonstrated in the undiagnosed years of Eva Pyle. After waiting 20 months for a mental health assessment from her local NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in Surrey, Cathy Pyle says her daughter Eva was finally able to get an autism assessment. This was after Eva had previously waited 11 months for a mental health assessment due to increasing distress during her first year in secondary school, culminating in self-harm.
Years of waiting
Eva is not alone in her struggle. Statistics gathered by The Observer under the Freedom of Information Act show 2,835 autistic children are still waiting for their first appointment, an average of 88 weeks after being referred at the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust. As of January 2022, the longest wait reported was 251 weeks, a nearly five-year wait.
However, children with autism are not the only ones waiting months for their first appointment. More than 1,200 children with referrals for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the trust have been waiting an average of 46 weeks for their first appointment, with the longest wait spanning 195 weeks.
A spokesperson for Coventry and Warwickshire CCG has acknowledged that the waiting period for autism and ADHD assessments is longer than is acceptable and said: “We are investing £5.4 million in additional diagnostic capacity.”
One case among many
According to the figures given by 20 NHS trusts to the Freedom of Information Act, the average waiting time for children with outstanding referrals is up to six months for their first appointment.
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Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan MP, the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, said: “The NHS does an incredible job with the resources that it has, however, long waits for treatment have a considerable impact on patients and families. It’s unacceptable that a six-month wait has become the standard for autism referrals, with many others waiting years to be seen, on the Conservatives’ watch. Waiting so long for treatment will have a detrimental impact on a child’s development.”
A Government spokesperson also told The Observer: “Supporting neurodivergent children is part of our Long Term NHS Plan – developing packages with charity experts and children’s services to support them throughout the diagnostic process.”
Waiting for an autism or ADHD diagnosis is not something to take lightly. An immediate diagnosis is extremely necessary for a child’s future behavior. A five-year wait is a problem that needs a solution, not only from NHS trusts but from the UK Government. Due to the increase in neurodivergent individuals and autism diagnoses, advocates are calling for the support of neurodivergent children to be part of the short-term NHS plan with a strategy that prioritizes increasing diagnostic capacity.
Kids like Eva should not have to face declining mental health due to late diagnosis and parents should not have to resort to paying thousands of pounds for a private diagnosis so as not to wait another year.
Jayanetti, C.(2022, April 2). Autistic children wait up to five years for an NHS appointment. The Observer