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BMA calls for ‘national standard for autism care’

Disparity in referrals for autism, revealed

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Some people wait far longer than others to begin treatment for autism.

The issue has been highlighted at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual conference, in which doctors expressed their disappointment at the disparity.

The Association’s 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 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (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 child and adolescent 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.”

Commenting, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told OnMedica: “No one should be left waiting for a diagnosis - the guidelines on autism are clear that families should wait no more than three months to start assessment. We expect every part of the NHS to adhere to these guidelines.”

A NICE spokesperson said: “People with autism need to be identified as early as possible so that they can access the best support available to them. Our quality standard on autism sets out prioritised statements designed to drive improvements in the care of children, young people and adults. It recommends that people with possible autism who are referred for a diagnostic assessment are seen within three months of their referral.”

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.

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