Northern Ireland being failed by lack of adult ADHD services, MLA says

Peter McReynolds MLA
Peter McReynolds MLA -Credit:Alliance Party

People in Northern Ireland struggle to receive an adult diagnosis for ADHD due to a lack of services available here, an MLA has explained.

Alliance MLA Peter McReynolds has launched a petition for adult ADHD services to be commissioned in Northern Ireland. He was inspired to do so after watching a Channel 4 documentary from TV personality Sam Thompson about his journey of being diagnosed with the condition as an adult.

Following this, Peter submitted a written question to the Health Minister, asking for the number of people who currently have ADHD in Northern Ireland. He was shocked by the response he received, which stated: "There are currently no regionally commissioned services for adult ADHD and therefore no requirement Health and Social Care Trusts to manage an ADHD waiting list."

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ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a developmental disorder associated with an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. The symptoms can interfere significantly with an individual's daily activities and relationships.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Peter said the current situation in Northern Ireland is dire, and he hopes his petition can help implement an ADHD strategy. He said: "I was really interested in this as I have a couple of friends with the condition.

"Given the developments that have taken place in terms of ADHD, there's loads of people who have gone through their life with the condition, but it hasn't been possible to get diagnosed. I launched the petition and have been inundated with signatures but with each one of those people signing, they're emailing me as well, so my inbox is full of testimonies from people about the impact this is having on their life."

Currently in Northern Ireland, to receive an adult ADHD diagnosis, you can try to access services at the various health trusts through your GP, but this has been described as a "postcode lottery" with availability varying depending on where you live. This lack of services forces many people to pay for a private diagnosis.

Peter said: "We don't have a waiting list, which really stunned me about the approach being taken by the Department of Health. Presently in Northern Ireland, you can go to your GP to try to get access to these services by the various trusts. But it's been described to me by a consultant as a postcode lottery.

"In the South Eastern Trust, for example, you will probably get seen at some point, who knows when that's going to be, it's going to be years at the very least. But if you go to the Western Trust, people are being told there's nothing. So there's a real disparity there. You're faced with a limbo because the services aren't commissioned.

"Then there's the situation where people go private. Going private is always held up in this great way of being seen faster, but actually, the private sector is overwhelmed with demand and they can't actually take on any more patients.

"So every door is being closed in your face in Northern Ireland unfortunately, in terms of getting access to a diagnosis that may be completely transformative as it was put to me by one person recently.

"Then in terms of medication, if you get your diagnosis, which takes a number of hours to obtain, go to your GP and they'll not enter into a shared care agreement so you can't receive medication. I can understand why some GPs are wary of doing that in terms of insurance and liability issues.

"But it just means you spend hundreds of pounds in the private sector to get access to your diagnosis, but it isn't really worth anything in terms of access to a trust related pathway. So you're faced with either spending hundreds of pounds on medication on a monthly basis or just being an absolute limbo."

Peter said he has been contacted by numerous people impacted by the lack of adult ADHD services here, from the age of 18 up to 55. He said services being commissioned would be "transformative" for many people who could then receive the care and support they need.

"I had one person contact me at the start of this, and he told me how he tried to take his life a number of times, and told me how he'd been diagnosed throughout his life for depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder," Peter added.

"But all of those, he's convinced and his friends are convinced and his GP is convinced it's probably ADHD, but he was met with, you know, it's likely going to be eight years until we're able to see you.

"We just need to give certainty to people to know what's going on if it is ADHD, as that medication is transformative in terms of the immediate impact that it will have."

Peter is calling on the Department of Health to implement an ADHD strategy which would give people access to a diagnosis and medication, treatments, and support, to help fill the gaps that currently exist.

He explained: "We have to do more for ADHD. I think there's gaps across the sector for all ages, and that's what the strategy would try to achieve because I think we're really lagging behind here in Northern Ireland. We need to get our house in order and that's where a strategy would come in.

"It's a difficult problem to solve, it's going to take a lot of resources; but the immediate impact it would have is transformative, which is why I'm really keen for this petition to be an important first step in getting access to those services for people in Northern Ireland."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "Provision of service for ADHD assessment and diagnosis has grown across Trusts in recent years in response to population demand and available expertise within Health & Social Care teams. While a level of provision is available for ADHD referrals, there are currently no specifically commissioned services.

"The Health and Social Care Trusts are committed to working closely and collaboratively with the Department to develop innovative, cost effective, co-produced, quality, and evidenced-based services that can meet the needs of patients with ADHD. This work would include the development of clinical pathways.

"Any decision to commission Adult ADHD services in the future will be based on an assessment of the level of demand for services, and in the context of future budget availability.

"Officials from the Department are considering the future direction of travel for the commissioning of Adult ADHD services and how best to progress the issue, in discussion with relevant stakeholders. Subject to future budget availability, potential next steps include the commissioning of research/analysis of adult ADHD demand to inform options for future commissioning strategies, as well as a regional workshop to explore potential ways forward."

You can find out more and sign the petition by clicking here.

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