Around 3,000 adults are waiting for an assessment for autism spectrum condition in Hampshire, with average waits of more than two-and-a-half years.

Latest reports from Hampshire autism assessment providers show that around 72 per cent of children in Hampshire and 60 per cent of adults they see have positive diagnoses.

This week’s health and adult social care select committee also heard that demand for services has increased by more than 300 per cent since 2019, placing significant pressure on services to maintain waiting times.

To mitigate the waiting, non-NHS organisations were commissioned to tackle the problem. However, demand continues rising, with average waiting times in Hampshire now at more than two-and-a-half years.

Figures show that in England, around 158,000 people were waiting for an autism assessment in December 2023. Many are still waiting longer than 13 weeks between referral and first assessment.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care Board (ICB) officers said they have worked closely with the county council to develop the Hampshire Autism Strategy.

The ICB officer said: “We are absolutely clear that we need to make a change that works well in a sustainable and long-term way. In the past, we’ve been able to identify small pots of funding that have reduced or maintained lists. But we need something big to really support our patients long-term.”

To address the challenges, a new co-designed all-age transformed pathway model to meet the ongoing demand for ADHD and autism spectrum conditions will be established.

The ICB officer said: “What we have managed to do for the first time in Hampshire is secure all-age all autism assessment service. So whether you are five or 55 years old, you go into the same provider, and you don’t move when you turn 18 years old. You won’t be transferred between services you’ve always been on the same list until you receive your assessment.”

“Our providers have been commissioned to review all of our patient cases to understand who we’ve got, how long they’ve been waiting, whether there was distress, and whether there are any mental health issues; to really understand who we’ve got.

“We can’t keep looking up cases as just numbers. We know what our numbers are. We need to know who people are.”

The officer also said that they had been awarded funding through public health to extend the provision and have another 445 assessments for adults in Hampshire.

“That’s not solved things; we have a long way to go from this, but it’s a strategy, and it’s something that we can move forward positively,” the officer said.

The NHS has said autistic people are at significantly greater risk of experiencing health inequalities. They are more likely to experience major illnesses, including poor mental health and other “co-morbid” physical health conditions, face shorter healthy life expectancy and die earlier – an average of 16 years earlier than the general population.

Autistic adults who do not have a learning disability are nine times more likely to die from suicide, and autistic children are 28 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide.

Councillor David Harrison said that one of the most important things to do is educate society about autism.

The ICB officer pointed out that recently, Hampshire is developing a project alongside NHS England and the Department of Education called “autism schools” to support schools in becoming more educated and informed about identifying autistic children.

Not only by putting them through the assessment but also by supporting them through school, at home, and in building development relationships with families, as well as by changing their policies to make themselves more inclusive and supportive.