As of September 2023, 157,809 people were waiting for an autism assessment in England, new NHS data has revealed. This is a 50% increase in the number of people waiting in just one year.
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 85% (134,815 people) have been waiting longer than 13 weeks.
We are 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.
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. We are 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 September next year there would be over 236,000 people waiting for an autism assessment. Government must act now.
Mel Merritt, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the National Autistic Society, said: “It is appalling that waiting lists for an autism assessment in England has risen by 50% in just one year. The number of people potentially struggling without the right help and support in their daily lives could now fill Twickenham Stadium twice – nearly 160,000 people.
“In 2021, the Government promised in the autism strategy that it would make significant progress in reducing diagnosis waiting times. But the figures released today show that the complete opposite is happening.
“Long waits for assessments can push people to the edge. Autistic people shouldn’t miss out on vital support, or even develop mental health problems and end up in desperate situations, because they haven’t got the timely assessment and help they’re entitled to.
“Without urgent long-term funding for diagnosis services, waiting lists will keep increasing. The Government and the new Health Secretary must invest in what autistic people need, and keep the promise it made. Anything less is unacceptable.”
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