More than 40% of people with ADHD waiting at least two years to access mental health service, study finds

Healthcare professionals, integrated care board commissioners and people with lived experience of ADHD all reported extended wait times for adult mental health services.
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More than 40% of people in England with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been on the waiting list for adult mental health services (AMHS) for two years or more, a study has found.

The study, published on 9 April 2024 by the British Journal of General Practice, collected data from three interlinked cross-sectional surveys, consisting of 782 respondents — 42 integrated care board commissioners, 331 primary care healthcare professionals and 409 people with lived experience (patients and supporters).

The surveys asked participants questions on prescribing, availability of AMHS and shared care, to inform improvement to services and access to ADHD treatment in primary care across England.

Among the respondents, 45.2%, 42.2% and 37.4% of commissioners, healthcare professionals and people with lived experience, respectively, reported extended waiting times of two years or more for AMHS.

Responses from healthcare professionals found that extended waiting times were highest in the east of England (55%) and lowest in London (25%), with people with lived experience reporting highest waiting times in north-east Yorkshire (55%) and lowest waiting times in the east of England (14%).

The authors also said that 95% of healthcare professionals working in primary care had confirmed prescribing treatment for patients; however, 54% of people with lived experienced reported that they had received prescriptions for ADHD medicine.

The proportion of patients who reported receiving prescriptions varied by region, with the highest proportion in London (83%), and lowest proportion in the Midlands (56%) and south west of England (55%).

Commenting on the study, Henry Shelford, chief executive officer of charity ADHD UK, said: “We see huge discrepancies across the country where wait times for adults vary from twelve weeks to ten-and-a-half years… with huge regional disparities.”

Shelford added that the statistics “underline how many patients are falling between the cracks in the NHS”.

“We have patients who are moving in the UK and finding themselves having to be put on the waitlist for reassessment and being without medication for that time.

“We’ve spoken to someone who has moved three times in London and found themselves having to be reassessed three times, and it’s a waste of NHS resources. The person, each time, was waiting over a year and it had a devastating impact on their life,” he said.

The findings follow the launch of NHS England’s ADHD taskforce in March 2024, which aims to better understand the challenges affecting those with the condition and to help provide a joined up approach in response to concerns around rising demand.

In June 2023, The Pharmaceutical Journal reported that the number of adults in England prescribed at least one medicine for ADHD, or a central nervous system stimulant, has nearly doubled since January 2020.

However, a survey published in November 2023 by ADHD UK revealed that more than a quarter of ADHD patients in the UK say they have received no medication, following ongoing drug shortages announced in September 2023.

The ADHD UK survey reported that 70% of respondents had rationed their own medicine as a result of the shortages.

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Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2024, Vol 312, No 7984;312(7984)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.309279

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