Barbara Keeley MP


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Waiting times for the diagnosis of Autism

In my role as the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, I responded to a Westminster debate on the issue of waiting times for autism diagnosis. The debate was well attended by my Labour colleagues and altogether a total of 22 MPs plus the Minister, SNP spokesperson and me spoke in the debate, which was led by my colleague Bambos Charalambous MP.

Securing an early formal diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access the right support. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guideline specifies that an autism diagnosis should be started within three months of the referral from the patient’s GP. However, this is just a guideline and there is evidence that waiting times can be much longer. At the debate, I asked the Health Minister what plans the Government had to speed up the diagnosis process.

Getting a formal diagnosis for autism is the first hurdle towards accessing support such as speech and language therapists, health specialists and welfare support. We heard in the debate that patients can be forced to ‘wait to wait’ for treatments. ‘Waiting to wait’ is a distressing and frustrating process for patients to go through and the delays it causes can lead to the development of other issues. This is not acceptable and I urged the Health Minister who replied to the debate to address this issue.

During the debate I also raised the issue of the shortage of professionals within the NHS, which causes long waiting times for assessments. This is not just an issue for children and young people who have autistic spectrum disorder, but it matters to adults who seek to be diagnosed later in life. We now have the first generation of people reaching middle age who were not able to get a formal diagnosis of autism when they were younger and we must take account of this in planning services for autistic people.

In my speech in the debate, I asked the Health Minister a number of other questions related to the Government’s strategy on autism. I urged her to consider the proposal made by the National Autism Society to implement an ‘Autism Register’ in order to gather useful statistics about the treatment of people with autism. I also asked the Government to commit to adding the data about autism diagnosis waiting times to the Mental Health Statistics published by Government.

The debate was a good opportunity to raise a number of issue with the Health Minister and I will continue to press the Government for action to reduce the waiting times for an autism diagnosis.

You can read my speech online at

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