Shocking waiting lists across the UK for ADHD diagnosis

NICE Guidelines state that no one should wait longer that three months between being referred for an ADHD Assessment and being seen, but from the abundance of media coverage and statistics out there, it is clear this is sadly not the case across the United Kingdom. We looked at some of the wait times and the results are shocking. Here are just a few examples:

Leeds and York NHS Trust

The Leeds and York NHS website advised last month that they typically receive 195+ referrals per month which exceeds their capacity by far. As of January 2024, they noted approximately 4,000 people on the waiting list. Those being assessed currently joined the waiting list in January 2021 – a 3 year wait.

They further note that “This waiting period is accurate for those at the front of the waiting list but will be several years longer for those who have been referred more recently. Due to the gap between demand and capacity, this waiting time is expected to increase.” Diagnosis is not the only worry; Leeds and York NHS Trust further report that there were, in January 2024, approximately 290 people on their ADHD medication waiting list; those being booked currently having waited since December 2021, a staggering 2 years and 4 months wait. This is an excruciatingly long wait between receiving diagnosis and being started on medication.

Devon NHS Trust

Advice on the Devon NHS website, updated in February 2024, states they are seeing people who were referred in July 2021 – a wait time of approximately 2 years and 7 months. A slight reduction in comparison to Leeds and York NHS, but only marginally. On the plus side, the wait for medication is slightly lower promising 18 months with those being referred in October 2022 currently being seen.

Central and Northwest London NHS Trust

The Central and Northwest London NHS website advises that since November 2023 they have had to close their waiting list.  Due to receiving extremely high numbers of referrals they are at capacity. Astonishingly, their current wait time is over 36 months, for those that managed to get on the waitlist prior to closing.

It was reported by the BBC in March last year that “Assessments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can take longer than five years in Sussex and up to four years in Surrey, data from health bodies show.”

In the last couple of weeks the BBC have reported “NHS cannot meet autism or ADHD demand, report says”. Quoting an average of one to two year wait times for ADHD assessments for 24% of patients and a 51% increase in demand for prescriptions for ADHD medications since 2019.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessments

As well as looking at the significant waiting times for ADHD assessments, it is important to highlight the significant waiting times for Autism Spectrum Disorder assessments. According to the statistics, 50-70% of individuals that are diagnosed with ASD also have ADHD present. This translates into approximately 25% of those diagnosed with ADHD also having ASD; although it is thought between clinicians that this is much higher, yet undocumented.

The latest NHS figures report, the highest ever recorded figure, 172,000 adults and children that are on waiting lists for an ASD assessment and it seems reasonable to assume that this is only set to rise based on the growth in figures over the last few years. With the report “A country that works for all children and young people: An evidence-based plan for addressing the autism assessment and support crisis” reporting that since Covid-19 there has been a 306% increase in the number of children waiting for an autism assessment.

The Devon NHS website advises that, as of February 2024, the current wait time was approximately 5 years and 6 months for an ASD Assessment, with patients being initially referred in August 2018 currently being assessed. With NHS ‘experimental’ data showing that, as at June 2023, 143,119 people were waiting for an autism assessment. With this number rising to 157,809 on the waiting list by September 2023. The September report also depicts a worrying picture, noting that the number of diagnoses were actually down by a third against the previous year. With only 754 patients being diagnosed in the month of September 2023 in comparison to 1,058 in September 2022. With a 27% rise in new referrals being reported over the same period it is difficult to see these numbers reducing in the near future.

The Nice guidelines timeframe of being seen within 3 months of referral is completely lost here, with only 6.4% of patients getting an appointment for assessment within 13 weeks of referral being reported in the September 2023 statistics.

The request for evaluations for autism and ADHD has surged so rapidly that existing services are overwhelmed. Heightened recognition of neurodiversity, combined with staffing challenges, the effects of the pandemic, and persistent financial shortfalls, have resulted in escalating delays and extended wait periods that detrimentally impact individuals’ daily experiences.

The consequences for children are profound. Lacking an official diagnosis, children and adolescents who may have autism or ADHD often do not receive necessary assistance in educational settings, potentially altering their future path significantly.

This eye watering situation is part of the reason why we opened The ADHD Clinic. We want to ensure that people have access to ADHD Assessments, from a team of highly experienced specialists, within the recommended timeframe.  We offer an Adult ADHD diagnosis within 6-8 weeks and a Child ADHD diagnosis within 14-16 weeks[1], with the added benefit of a multidisciplinary assessment option with both a psychologist and psychiatrist to give a holistic and fully encompassing diagnosis. We are also pleased to be able to offer a Fastrack ASD assessment option.

[1] Timescales correct at time of writing but are subject to change.