Autism and ADHD Assessments Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Autism and ADHD Assessments

Jon Trickett Excerpts
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to be here under your guidance, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who introduced this debate, and the Petitions Committee on organising the debate, even though the petitions had not reached 100,000 signatures. This is a very important debate. We have heard heartbreaking stories from Members across the House. I am sure that the Minister will have noted the unity across the House on this matter and will respond appropriately.

I argue that there is a crisis in our country. It is a crisis for millions of individuals. I think it was said that there are 3 million people—children and adults—with ADHD and nearly three quarters of a million, at least, with autism. For each one of those people and for each of those families and households, this is a personal crisis. Of course it is a crisis brought on by the way in which we organise our society, but I will come back to that in a moment. I want first to record the experience of one family, although of course we all have many similar stories.

This is a family with a three-year-old son awaiting assessment for autism, sensory processing disorder and ADHD. He is non-verbal at three years old and has high sensory needs; he receives the high rate of disability living allowance. The referral in this three-year-old boy’s case was made in March 2022. As of two weeks ago, he had had no access at all to any support. The family are managing on two to three hours’ sleep a night. The mother felt it was necessary to give up her job to care for the boy—no doubt there are many mothers, fathers and grandparents all over the country doing similar things. The family spent every penny of their savings on home adaptations, and now there is no money left. The mother has had to go on to universal credit. Even if they wanted to go private, they could not afford it, and they should not have to do so.

[Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

There is a second case, on which I do not want to spend long because it is neither autism nor ADHD—it is dyspraxia, which is a related condition. A daughter was diagnosed and received some support, but the system failed to allow for her transition from school to university, which caused a great crisis in the family. We are seeing problems all over the country but, as I said in my opening remarks, these personal, familial and household crises are brought on by the way in which we organise our country.

We have heard these figures before, so I will be brief, but in England alone 120,000 people are currently waiting for an autism assessment, and 100,000 have waited more than three months, which is an important moment because NICE says that people should be seen within three months. That is a huge increase in the number of people waiting for assistance, diagnosis and treatment—a 40% increase in a single year. This problem exploded during the period of lockdown. No doubt there are a number of reasons for that, but these are individual human beings whose lives could be transformed if an early diagnosis was made and treatment recommended.

Late diagnosis causes problems for children in school, for the other children, for teachers and for parents and families. These children would be less likely to develop mental health issues later in life if they are diagnosed early, and the same is true of adults who are awaiting diagnosis. Both sides of the House agree that is clear.

I congratulate everyone who signed the petitions asking for Parliament to debate this subject, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I do not want to strike a discordant note, but two Conservative Members raised the question of money. I am from Yorkshire, and Yorkshiremen and women do not like spending money, although it is occasionally necessary—moths fly out of my purse if I ever manage to take out a £5 note. ITN and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism did a careful analysis across the country, and they estimate that the true scale of the SEND funding crisis, the true financial black hole facing councils, is more than £1 billion, which is a staggering amount of money. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have an accurate assessment of how much it would cost to resolve these issues. After all, the Government can make a difference to people’s lives if they choose to act, which is what they should be doing.

I looked at the national autism strategy, which was published last year and offered peanuts to try to resolve some of these problems. I understand how difficult this is, and how we have to train skilled professionals; none the less, it offered peanuts. The Government promised that by the end of the strategy in 2026, which is years away, they would have made

“demonstrable progress on reducing diagnosis waiting times and improving diagnostic pathways for children, young people and adults across the country.”

That is not an ambitious statement. I do not want to be too discordant, because there is agreement on both sides of the House that this problem needs to be addressed and that we can transform lives. I am sure the Minister is fully conscious of that, given her professional background.

I will not continue too long, because a number of Members still want to speak, but I want to say that is important that we reflect on school admissions and exclusions. I wonder whether school academies, which are relatively autonomous and self-governing, have sufficiently strong guidance relating to children and young people who have what is called “challenging behaviour”. It may well be that some of them are challenging, but many of them have undiagnosed neurodivergent issues that need to be addressed. Is the Minister satisfied that there are sufficiently strong processes in place to prevent the exclusion, sometimes from more than one school, of young pupils who are neurodivergent? Eventually they either abscond or truant from school, or are simply kept at home by their parents because they feel that the system is almost abusive to their child. I say that because I have become aware of large numbers of people over the years whose children have been excluded from school and who subsequently said that they realised that their child had undiagnosed and unaddressed health problems. I have to say that it seemed to be a particular issue in school academies. I wonder whether the Minister has had a look at that and whether she could write to the relevant Committee with any data on that matter.