How to get an ADHD diagnosis in the UK

How to get an ADHD diagnosis in the UK

It’s estimated that One in forty adults have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). However, struggling to obtain a diagnosis for ADHD in the UK is still a common problem. Many adults and children face long waiting times to see an ADHD specialist for an assessment, and even then they may be given an inaccurate diagnosis. Due to poor awareness around ADHD, it can often be misdiagnosed as a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or even dementia.

So if you believe that you or your child may have ADHD, how do you go about getting a diagnosis in the UK?


How is ADHD diagnosed in adults?

Unfortunately, getting a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult can be difficult and time-consuming.

There is no one objective test (such as a blood test) for ADHD, which means that diagnosing it can be a complex process. The process requires an ADHD specialist psychiatrist to make a diagnosis after undertaking a detailed assessment.

In the UK, an adult can only be diagnosed with ADHD if they have >5 or more out of the 9 symptoms of inattentiveness, or 5 or more out of the 9 symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsiveness. Whilst a specialist psychiatrist will always enquire about present symptoms, an adult cannot be diagnosed with ADHD based on present symptoms alone. Under current diagnostic guidelines, a diagnosis of ADHD can not be confirmed unless their symptoms have been present from childhood. This is because it is currently thought that ADHD cannot develop in adult brains, so if an individual’s symptoms did not occur in the past they will not be diagnosed with ADHD. This means that research will often need to be conducted into the patient’s history, including speaking to parents/siblings about the patient as a child, or looking through old school reports.

Another area that an ADHD specialist will consider when diagnosing ADHD in an adult is the extent to which symptoms affect their day to day life. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with ADHD their symptoms should have at least a moderate effect on areas such as work, relationships, friendships, or driving.

How is ADHD diagnosed in children?

There are a number of different specialists that a child may be referred to for a formal ADHD assessment, including:

  • a child psychiatrist
  • a paediatrician 
  • a learning disability specialist or social worker

Again, there is no simple test to determine whether a child has ADHD. An ADHD specialist will conduct a detailed assessment which may include a physical examination, a series of interviews with the child, and interviews or reports from parents, carers, and teachers. 

In order for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, they must display 6 or more symptoms of inattentiveness, or 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. The child must also have been displaying ADHD symptoms continuously for at least 6 months, and must have started to show symptoms before the age of 12. Children must also show ADHD symptoms in at least two different settings, for example both at home and at school. This is to rule out the behaviour being related to one particular setting, for example as a reaction to being at school.

As with an adult ADHD diagnosis, in order to diagnose ADHD in a child it must be clear that the child’s symptoms make their day to day lives more difficult (for example, the child may struggle in education, or find it hard to form friendships).

Routes to ADHD Diagnosis

In the UK, there are currently three possible routes to receiving an ADHD assessment and diagnosis:

ADHD Diagnosis via the NHS

Unfortunately, there are inadequate resources available in the NHS for ADHD assessment and diagnosis. According to Focus Mag, this lack of resources has led to some people waiting up to five years for a diagnosis, and then waiting another 12 months to start treatment.

The first step to obtaining an ADHD diagnosis via the NHS is to speak to your GP and explain the reasons why you think you may have ADHD. Your GP cannot diagnose ADHD – whatever route you take, you will need to see a specialist psychologist in order to obtain a diagnosis. However, your GP may decide to refer you for an NHS ADHD Assessment if they feel that you need one (if your GP refuses to provide a referral you may decide to get a second opinion from another GP). Sadly, the referral process can take several years depending on where you are geographically; this is the main downside of going through the NHS for an ADHD diagnosis. If your GP does offer you a referral, ask them to give you an idea of wait times- this may help you decide on your next course of action.

Right To Choose

For adults based in England there is now a middle route when seeking an ADHD assessment and diagnosis. Individuals have a legal right to choose their mental healthcare provider, which means you can choose referral to a private clinic where the diagnosis is generally faster than using the NHS. This is why it is important to ask your GP about referral waiting times on the NHS: should you decide the waiting time for your ADHD assessment is too long, then you can look into choosing an alternative route such as a private ADHD clinic.

Assessment and Diagnosis via a private ADHD Clinic

Luckily, there are now ADHD clinics where specialist psychologists can help you obtain an ADHD assessment and diagnosis much faster than the NHS can. For example, Sanctum clinic in Wilmslow, Cheshire, guarantees to respond to all ADHD enquiries within 24 hours, and patients can expect to be assessed and diagnosed within just one day.

Sanctum is a specialist ADHD clinic offering a comprehensive, multi-professional assessment for adults and children who may have ADHD. Sanctum’s diagnostic team all have specialist experience of assessing and supporting individuals with ADHD.

Sanctum’s unique ADHD assessment process includes the following steps:

1. Complete screening questionnaire

2. An assessment with a specialist psychiatrist

3. Information gathering from reliable informants

4. Comorbidity assessment

5. Computerised objective ADHD test

6. Assessment of the impact of ADHD

7. Diagnosis

8. Follow up

9. Transfer of care

Private ADHD clinics such as Sanctum understand that individuals can struggle to live full and happy lives as a result of undiagnosed ADHD, and for that reason long NHS waiting lists are just not an option. This is why private ADHD clinics aim to provide rapid access to assessment.

Choosing a private ADHD clinic such as Sanctum means that you can begin your assessment journey immediately without any waiting times.

In summary…

Evidence suggests that obtaining a diagnosis and receiving treatment for ADHD is a major factor in living a happier, healthier life. Whichever route you choose to take, we wish you the best of luck with your path towards assessment and diagnosis. 

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