Thank you to all those who contacted me about waiting times for autism assessment and diagnoses, and the related campaign by the National Autistic Society (NAS).
More than 125,000 people are currently waiting with a referral for suspected autism who have not yet received a diagnosis – an increase of more than 30% in the last year alone. Most of those people are waiting longer than the 13-week wait target, as recommended by national clinical guidelines. Indeed, only 8.5% of referrals are within the 13-week wait.
This is simply not good enough. Securing an early diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access appropriate support. Without a formal diagnosis, many people will struggle at school, in the workplace, and at home.
The Government committed to making progress on reducing diagnosis waiting times in their 2021 national autism strategy. But far too often, access to assessments depends on where in the country you live. This postcode lottery means that waiting times are far too long in many parts of England, leaving some autistic adults and children waiting months or even years for a diagnosis.
Reports are emerging of patients having to spend thousands of pounds on private healthcare to get a much-needed assessment and diagnosis. I am concerned that patients and their families are being failed.
Minister must take immediate action on waiting lists and set out when they will increase capacity and resourcing to ensure that waiting times for assessment can be reduced. It is completely unacceptable that a six-month wait has become the standard for autism referrals.
While autism is not itself a mental illness, people with autism are more likely to experience mental health problems and often end up in mental health crisis if they cannot access the assessments or treatment they need.
I am pleased the Opposition has set out a plan to guarantee NHS mental health treatment within a month for all who need it, paid for by ending tax exemptions for private schools and closing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers. This commitment forms part of a wider, transformative package that will expand the mental health workforce – recruiting 8,500 additional mental health staff – to provide treatment to millions of more patients.