ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Labour/Co-operative, Leigh 4:17 pm, 15th May 2018

I completely agree. We have focused on young people in school settings, but that affects adults enormously.

I received a message from a constituent, Diane, who felt that she was different at school. Diane’s story speaks to the point, made by Martin Docherty-Hughes, that adults are affected too. Diane went under the radar as she was high-functioning. She passed her GCSEs but failed at university as she felt that she could not concentrate. Diane developed mental health issues and has spent most of her life on anti-depressants, which she found did not work. She was unable to keep a job or a relationship, and in her 30s she tried to take her own life. It was only when her doctor advised her to be tested for ADHD and she was treated appropriately that her life turned around. That is not an uncommon story.

Since the debate was publicised on the House of Commons Facebook page last week, it has become clear that the scale of the diagnosis crisis is even greater than I could have imagined. The post was seen by 37,000 people and was engaged with by more than 1,000 people, shared right across the country. We saw stories of five-year waits and longer, of people forced to get a private diagnosis costing up to £1,000, and of children in school without the support they need. I urge the Minister to head to the Commons Facebook page and read some of the powerful stories.

After reading those stories, I could not help but wonder how in 2018 our healthcare provision can be so unresponsive to a condition that affects so much of the population. Earlier I quoted from a survey but did not state what the average waiting time is for a diagnosis across the country. That is because such information is not collected by the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care. We have no idea what the average wait for diagnosis is, and therefore there are no target times.

From the unofficial data that is collected, it seems that we are likely encountering a vast postcode lottery that is unfairly dictating the speed of a diagnosis and the support available. Just take the comment of Sian on Facebook. Her son in Wigan has received excellent care, which she described as “life changing”. However, she teaches in a neighbouring constituency where children are waiting more than a year for diagnosis and encounter a far more confusing process. Without the diagnosis data, we have no way of either assessing the effectiveness of the current diagnosis process or identifying areas of good practice. That data must be collected before we can begin to assess our treatment strategies.

The third way we are letting people down is through the lack of an integrated support strategy for those with ADHD. By looking at each impact of ADHD in isolation—at just the medical impact, just the impact in educational settings, or just the behavioural impact and the social implications of the condition—we, as a society, are failing to offer the whole-system approach to ADHD, and to mental health more generally, that is needed. Tackling ADHD should be about transforming lives; not just responding to symptoms, but working to unlock the full potential of the incredibly creative minds that those with the condition possess.

The current approach to ADHD is not fit for purpose. Too many are falling through the net; too many are still waiting for a diagnosis after years on a waiting list; too many are without the right support; and too many are living undiagnosed with a condition that can have a severe impact on their daily life. I introduced today’s debate because of stories such as Becky’s, Sam’s, Hugh’s, Sarah’s, Claire’s, and the countless others who got in contact with me out of desperation, and who I know will be watching today.

What changes do we need? First, there needs to be more research. A recent Demos report highlighted that ADHD is under-researched, particularly its social and economic impacts. There also needs to be research into the difference made by early access to diagnosis and treatment to the long-term outcomes and costs of people with ADHD.

Secondly, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care need to collect data on waiting times. As we have seen, there is a vast postcode lottery across the country that determines the speed of diagnosis and the level of support. The system is grossly unfair and is reducing the life chances of people, based purely on where they live.

Thirdly, we need a streamlined and integrated approach to the support process we offer to children and adults with ADHD. As I have mentioned, those living with the condition are no less able but are often not suited to traditional methods of learning. We must implement a strategy that diagnoses an individual with ADHD speedily and then, crucially, signposts and tracks that individual through a system that promotes educational or employment opportunities suited to their skill set. More broadly, that means that as a society we must be unafraid to promote the untraditional or unconventional routes to success, and to promote the creative industries, and to destroy the social stigma that too often forces individuals down the academic route.

In my own borough of Wigan, we have seen the beginnings of such an approach. The local clinical commissioning group has implemented a new joint mental health strategy that is designed to facilitate the seamless interaction of healthcare professionals with support services and education providers. The early signs are promising. Already we have seen the average local wait down from 15 weeks to six weeks, which will help numerous local young people to thrive. However, there is still a long way to go. The strategy addresses ADHD only in children and its implementation is too recent to see the long-term local impact. The local nature of the strategy also highlights yet again the importance of a national framework to achieve equality of provision across the country.