Senate inquiry to investigate support for Australians with ADHD

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Assessment and support services for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny after the Australian Senate backed a Greens proposal for an inquiry on the issue.

The Senate community affairs references committee will examine barriers to “consistent, timely and best practice assessment” of ADHD and related services, including the adequacy of access to diagnosis and support, biases inherent in ADHD assessment and research, and the cost of medication.

Senator Jordon Steele-John, who has been leading a Greens campaign on the issue, proposed the inquiry, asking that it also examine the role of the national disability insurance scheme in treating people with ADHD, “with particular emphasis on the scheme’s responsibility to recognise ADHD as a primary disability”.

The Greens have been campaigning on ADHD since September, launching a survey in October to gauge “the community’s experiences in the healthcare system, where the barriers and gaps are, and how we can ultimately improve access to diagnosis and support”. The survey garnered more than 10,000 responses.

The results were “confronting, to say the least”, Steele-John said on Wednesday. “In particular, a large proportion of respondents shared issues with cost, wait time and stigma from their healthcare providers.”

Related: Adult ADHD diagnosis: ‘You’ve got to relook at your entire life’

Lack of ADHD diagnosis and support has been shown to have a significant economic impact, with a 2019 Deloitte Access Economics report estimating that the condition directly costs the Australian economy $12.83bn a year. Productivity losses were estimated to make up $10.2bn of this, as workers with ADHD took more days off due to illness and lost productive time due to the symptoms of their condition.

People with ADHD, especially those not receiving adequate treatment, have been shown to have a higher rate of road accidents and accidental injuries, increasing healthcare costs. Adults with the condition are also substantially over-represented in the Australian prison system, which treatment and medication has been shown to mitigate. People with ADHD are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide and six times more likely to die by it.

Australia does not directly track the number of ADHD diagnoses made but 800,000 people in the country are estimated to have ADHD – 2.8% of adults – with the vast majority not formally diagnosed. Global data suggests between 5.9% and 7.2% of children and teenagers have ADHD.

Steele-John said the inquiry was a win for people often locked out of decision-making processes that concern them.

“The serious long-term impacts of ADHD are well-established, yet we have not seen a single substantive conversation about the condition in parliament over the past five years,” Steele-John said.

“We must urgently address the gap between what the ADHD community needs and what it’s actually receiving.”

The Senate inquiry will include public hearings, to be scheduled in the coming weeks. The committee will report back to parliament by 27 September.