As of March 2023, 157,579 people were waiting for an autism assessment in England, new NHS data has revealed. This is a 35% increase in the number of people waiting in just one year. That means you could easily fill two Old Trafford Stadiums with the people who are currently waiting for a diagnosis, and who are potentially struggling without the right support at school, work or home.
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance states that no-one should wait longer than three months between being referred and first being seen. But this data shows that the vast majority of people 84% (133,000 people) have been waiting longer than 13 weeks. This is unacceptable.
The National Autistic Society is calling on the Government to urgently address the growing autism diagnosis crisis and to immediately invest in rolling out diagnosis services.
Too many waiting too long
An autism diagnosis is vital to getting the right help and support. Without a diagnosis many people struggle at school, work or home, develop mental health problems like anxiety or depression - and in some cases end up in crisis or even in hospital.
Currently, it’s a postcode lottery and delays have been made worse by the pandemic with the amount of people waiting for an autism assessment growing by 201% from the pre-pandemic level (Feb 2020) of 52,000.
Government must act
The Government committed to “making demonstrable progress on reducing diagnosis waiting times” in its National Autism Strategy for England. These commitments however, only account for the first year (2021/22) of the strategy. National Autistic Society is calling on the Government to provide immediate funding for diagnosis because without this the number of people waiting for an autism assessment will continue to increase and more people will be pushed to crisis point.
If waiting lists continue to grow at this rate, by March next year there would be over 212,000 people waiting for an autism assessment. Government must act now.
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research at the National Autistic Society, said: “The latest figures show there are 157,579 people waiting for an autism assessment in England – that’s an increase of 35% in just one year. That means you could easily fill Old Trafford Stadium twice with the people who are waiting for a diagnosis, and who are potentially struggling without the right support at school, work or home.
“We often hear of people who can’t get support without a diagnosis, which is why an autism diagnosis can be life-changing and is vital to getting the right help and support. Without long-term funding for diagnosis services across the country, we fear the waiting list will continue to grow and people will continue to be left waiting many months or even years for a diagnosis. This is a growing problem. The Government must act and invest in services, as set out in the national autism strategy, to reduce waiting times and ensure all autistic children, young people and adults get the right support.
“The publication of these statistics is important. But it’s also important to remember that these figures are still new and don’t yet give us a complete and accurate picture of just how long people are waiting for a diagnosis across England. The NHS must continue working to make this data more robust, so areas can be held to account for carrying out a diagnosis in good time.”
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