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(UK) Somerset: "'unprecedented' surge in demand for autism, ADHD assessments"

May 10, 2024, Wells Nub News: Somerset faces mounting delays in autism diagnosis

SW England

Hundreds of patients in Somerset are facing prolonged waits for autism diagnoses, with figures revealing that approximately 840 individuals in the area covered by the NHS Somerset Integrated Care Board were waiting at least 13 weeks for an assessment at the end of 2023.

This delay significantly overshoots the 13-week target set by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence for autism assessments.

The number of those waiting has increased from the previous year when 600 people faced similar delays, including 3% who were children. This rise comes amid what the Nuffield Trust has described as an "unprecedented" surge in demand for autism and ADHD assessments and treatments. The think tank has called for a "radical rethink" of the current health service model to better manage this growing need.

"We are only now beginning to recognise just how many people are neurodiverse," said Thea Stein, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust. "The challenge is that we have an obsolete health service model in place to deal with this avalanche of need."

The latest statistics indicate a nationwide increase in referrals for autism, totalling 136,000 in 2023, with 960 of these in Somerset alone. Comparatively, in 2022, there were 112,000 new referrals. Alongside the rise in autism cases, there is also a notable increase in the number of people receiving treatment for ADHD, with a 51% rise in those receiving medication for the condition compared to 2019-20.

However, despite these alarming figures, there is currently no national data on ADHD assessments, complicating efforts to fully understand and address the scale of the issue.

An NHS spokesperson emphasized the commitment to improving services, mentioning, "The NHS is fully committed to supporting and improving the lives of those with ADHD and autism which is why we have published new national guidance to help local areas manage the 50% increase in referrals they have seen."

In response to the growing crisis, NHS England has initiated a cross-sector taskforce to develop a cohesive strategy for managing the influx of patients needing support.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, highlighted the need for

enhanced investment and focus on autistic care. "Improving the quality of care and access to services for autistic people must be a priority," she stated. Cordery added that this includes ensuring "that patients, carers, and families are involved fully in decisions about their care" and that "the full range of services on which autistic people rely are funded properly and prioritised nationwide."


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