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Health board says autism and neurodiversity cases have doubled since pandemic

04 Apr 2024 3 minute read
Dr Nick Lyons, executive medical director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board

Richard Evans, local democracy reporter

A health chief has revealed a huge rise in reported cases of autism, ADHD, and other neurodiverse conditions since the Covid pandemic, with the number of children referred doubling.

New cases have increased across north Wales from around 200 a month to 400, meaning children, parents, and those waiting to be assessed are facing months or even years before they are diagnosed.

The revelation follows several parents with children suspected of being autistic or neurodiverse contacting the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Access

Dr Nick Lyons, executive medical director at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “We face the same challenges as health boards and trusts across the UK in ensuring timely access to neurodevelopment assessments in the face of significant growing demand.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, our neurodevelopment service received around 200 referrals every month. In 2023, that figure has increased to almost 400 per month.

“Regrettably, it has not been possible to increase our clinical capacity to match this increase in demand.

“Demand for this service far outweighs capacity, and this is known to be a national issue, and we continue to work proactively with partners to address this issue to futureproof the service.

“We do not underestimate how difficult these long waits can be for children and their families, and we are continuing to do all we can to reduce waiting times.

“Over the last 18 months, we have been working with Welsh Government to begin to deliver the national Neurodivergence Programme.

“As part of this programme, we have a team in place to look at ways we can modernise our service so we can improve the patient experience and their families.”

Trials

He added: “At present we are trialling new ways of working to help inform our future services delivery model.

“One of the trials is joint working with our educational leads in one of our local authorities to support professionals to enable them to support children who are presenting with difficulties which may or may not be linked to a neurodevelopmental condition.”

One North Wales mum has two children she suspects of having undiagnosed autism and ADHD.

She blames this for an escalation of “unmanageable behaviour”.

She wants more help and support for parents with children with neurodiverse conditions, believing a support network might have better protected her son and daughter.

She said: “We get given parenting tools.

“The problem is they are the wrong tools for the wrong job. They are not looking at the children and they are not assessing them.

“There is no support mechanism.

“I know two children who have autism who fought 10 years to get their diagnosis, and the children can’t even go to school. They can’t maintain a school place.

“An hour a day isn’t sufficient to send your child to school.”

She added: “The support networks aren’t there. It’s not a case of wham-bam get them diagnosed. It is what happens after that.”


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