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Tory MP Wants Government To "Throw The Kitchen Sink" At ADHD Backlog In NHS

The Umbrella project, celebrating neurodiversity and ADHD awareness in Hanley. (Alamy)

4 min read

MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have called on the government to prioritise tackling NHS waiting lists to assess people who could have the disorder.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) estimates around three per cent to four per cent of people in the UK live with ADHD, a life-long neurodevelopmental disorder like autism. 

While the most well-known symptoms of ADHD are inattention and impulsivity, other difficulties can include: disorganisation; poor time management; problems with emotional regulation; and difficulty managing stress. People with ADHD have higher levels of unemployment, school expulsion, and suicide - and are also more likely to suffer with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. 

But people potentially living with the disorder are struggling to access treatment. NHS waiting lists for assessment are more than five years long in parts of the UK – driving many to seek private assessments, which can be in excess of £1,000 and are not as tightly monitored as NHS care. 

Tory MP James Sunderland, a vice chair on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for ADHD, told PoliticsHome he wants the government to "throw the kitchen sink" at tackling NHS backlogs relating to ADHD, particularly for school aged children.

"We've got this national problem," said Sunderland, who noted that "prisons are full of kids with ADHD," which he believed was due to lack of access to diagnoses.

"I want to see CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] working for longer and faster over the weekend," he continued. "Let's throw more resources at CAMHS."

Sunderland also felt private ADHD assessment providers could play an important role in tackling backlogs for those who are willing to pay, but that these may need tighter regulation. 

Earlier this week a BBC Panorama investigation reported that several UK ADHD clinics, assessing hundreds of patients a year, may not be providing proper health checks before prescribing medication. 

The most common medication used to treat ADHD is methylphenidate, a stimulant which is a class B drug and should only be prescribed when deemed safe to do so following checks of a patient's physical and mental health. 

Sunderland said while the private sector’s ADHD patient care may not be as good as the NHS, it could “help them on their way” to secure treatment – but felt that government needed to "better regulate" private clinics.

Labour MP Olivia Blake, who is a vice chair on the APPG, said it was "upsetting and terrifying" that people are waiting more than five years on the NHS for assessments. 

“There's just a systemic lack of psychiatrists that are able to do these sorts of assessments within the NHS," said Blake, who has ADHD herself. 

"That's leading to so many people really, really struggling in their daily lives and kind of waiting for answers and treatment.”

Like Sunderland, Blake also said it was important to ensure the quality of care for people who seek a diagnosis of ADHD privately.

“I would love to see more regulation, I think that's really important," said Blake.

But she also worried that there could be an inclination to "dismiss people who've gone down that route" as a result of issues with some private clinics. 

In both the private and public sector, she believed "people should be given more support when they find out that they have these conditions".

Blake also felt there needed to be better monitoring of people who are prescribed drugs for ADHD. 

"While in the vast majority of cases drugs are effective, I think that there needs to be much better monitoring of people who are on drugs to make sure that they are taking them as safely as possible,” she added. 

Labour MP Alex Sobel, also a vice chair on the ADHD APPG, said he has personally seen the challenges facing people in the system. 

"So many people are waiting two or more years for an ADHD diagnosis, nevermind treatment. I have personal experience of the difficulties of even getting a referral," he said.

"We need more resource in the NHS and to ensure its robust so people get a correct diagnosis from a qualified professional."

The government continues to face pressure to tackle growing waiting lists across the NHS, with 7.3m in the UK currently waiting for care as the government misses its own NHS waiting list targets.

The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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