Nuffield Trust discuss spike in people seeking neurodiversity diagnoses

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Leading health think tank, The Nuffield Trust, has highlighted the challenges associated with the spike in people seeking neurodiversity diagnoses, and the increasingly long waiting times for autism and ADHD assessments across the UK. A post on their site discusses how to interpret available data, stressing the need for action to address this concerning trend.

Findings from recent reports show that waiting times for assessments related to autism ADHD have been increasing, with some areas reporting waits of up to two and a half years for a first appointment for an autism assessment. There is no national data on waiting times for ADHD assessments, but a recent Petitions Committee survey found some respondents waiting months for an NHS ADHD assessment appointment with 10% waiting between two and three years.

Why the increased demand?

Jessica Morris, Nuffield Trust Fellow and author of the piece, surmises that the surge in referrals can be partly attributed to heightened public awareness surrounding autism and ADHD, leading to more people seeking support. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated this trend, as lockdowns, school closures, and remote working helped unveil symptoms that might have previously gone unnoticed. She adds that vocal advocacy from charities and greater use of social media has also contributed to increased awareness of neurodiversity.

Experts currently remain divided on the underlying reasons for the rise in diagnoses. Some believe it’s because more children actually have autism and ADHD, while others suggest that overdiagnosis may be a contributing factor. Another idea is that there were people who needed help before but are only now coming forward to seek diagnosis and support.

What next?

Nuffield Trust poses the question of whether diagnosis is actually required if, as a society, we adapt a neuroinclusive approach. As we discussed in this article on neurodiversity in the workplace, there is divided thinking on the benefits and necessity of diagnosis.

As Morris concludes: ‘A wider debate about the role of the NHS in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of neurodivergent conditions is needed. In a health and care system where resources are so constrained, a broader response, working with other sectors including education, is likely to be required.’

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29 May 2024

5 mins read


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