Doctors at the BMA’s annual conference have said they are disappointed some people wait far longer than others to begin treatment for autism.
The Association’s ARM (Annual Representatives Meeting) backed a motion expressing disappointment at "the disparity in waiting times for referral, assessment and the diagnosis of autism."
The BMA also called upon NICE to produce clearer guidance on the acceptable waiting times from referral to diagnosis when autism is suspected.
While the motion supported the government’s commitment to collect and publish autism diagnosis waiting times, it also calls upon the government to increase funding to ensure there is a national standard for autism care.
BMA consultants committee deputy chair and children and adolescents psychiatrist Dr Gary Wannan said:
“People with autism and their families should be entitled to the same expectation of a timely diagnosis no matter where they live in the country. Even months in a child’s life can be a long time and delays simply make problems worse and more difficult to solve in the future.
“Children with autism are referred to CAMHS services because they often also suffer mental health problems. Unfortunately, like children and young people’s mental health services, autism services have suffered similar inadequate investment leaving medical professionals feeling as if their hands are tied.
“There have been reassuring promises about funding autism services but doctors are concerned whether this actually reaches patients on the frontline.”
A 2016 Public Health England highlighted the disparity in autism waiting times across the country.1
Since April 2018, NHS Digital has collected autism diagnosis waiting times in England within the Mental Health Services Data Set and promises a formal report on this data in 2019.2
Notes to Editors
The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.
1 – Autism Self-Assessment Exercise 2016, Public Health England, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/621233/Autism_self_assessment_framework_2016_report.pdf
2 - Statistics about mental health, learning disabilities and autism services