Four in five with suspected autism in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes experienced prolonged wait for diagnosis

The wait for diagnoses exceeded recommended limits
Image of a GP at their desk. Picture: Anthony DevlinImage of a GP at their desk. Picture: Anthony Devlin
Image of a GP at their desk. Picture: Anthony Devlin

Waits for autism diagnoses in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes exceeded the recommended limit for four in five patients, new figures show.

The National Autistic Society expressed concerns over the long waits, which it said can increase patients’ “likelihood of reaching crisis point” and called on the Government to invest in diagnosis services. NHS Digital figures show around 690 adults and children suspected of having autism in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes were waiting at least 13 weeks for a diagnosis in June. Of those, 55 were under 18.

This meant 81.2 per cent of 850 patients registered with the NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board in the month had experienced delays beyond the 13-week recommended limit. This was an increase from last year when those who waited beyond the recommended time during the same period accounted for 78.3 per cent of all 600 patients.

Mel Merritt, head of policy and campaigns at the society, said waiting lists will continue to grow unless urgent long-term funding for diagnosis services is provided. She added: "People often can’t get the right help and support without an autism diagnosis, and long waits for diagnosis and support can leave people in a difficult situation and increase their likelihood of reaching crisis point.

In Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes, around 290 patients seen in June had waited more than 13 weeks to get their first appointment.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know it’s vital to have a timely diagnosis of autism. NHS England recently published a national framework and operational guidance to set out how children, young people and adults can receive a timely assessment, and we’ve made £4.2 million available this year to improve services for autistic children and young people.

“We expect Integrated Care Boards and NHS Trusts to follow the clinical guidelines on autism published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and this year, we are also updating the Statutory Guidance on Autism to support the NHS and local authorities to deliver improved outcomes for autistic people.”