Nearly half of children in Scotland referred for an autism assessment have been waiting more than a year to be seen, new figures suggest.
According to official statistics, 5,7000 of the 12,500 Scottish children due to be assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder have had to wait more than 12 months.
One in five children – 2,180 – have been waiting over two years and 240 have waited over four years.
The figures were revealed following freedom of information requests made by the Scottish Conservatives.
They have called for action to bring down waiting times and to ensure that children and parents get the support they need.
The party has also warned that the number of children waiting for an assessment is “almost certainly higher” due to four of Scotland’s 14 NHS boards stating that they do not have information on waiting times.
Scottish Conservative MSP Graham Simpson described the delays as “unacceptable” as he underlined the detrimental impact they could have on a young person.
“For families with children waiting to get assessed, these shocking figures will strike a depressingly familiar cord,” he said.
“These delays are unacceptable. Having to wait a year for the diagnosis and support to be put in place could be seriously detrimental to a child with autism, but having to wait more than four doesn’t bear thinking about.
“It will undoubtedly also have an impact on parents who may be struggling to cope with the unique challenges of raising a child with autism without any extra help.”
Simpson criticised health secretary Humza Yousaf as he urged him to take action to bring down waiting times.
He said: “Sadly, these huge delays for assessments are asymptomatic of a wider waiting-times crisis in Scotland’s NHS that has developed on the SNP’s watch.
“Poor workforce planning by successive SNP health secretaries has led to a shortfall in frontline medical staff across our NHS.
“Humza Yousaf is currently letting down children and their families, so he must act immediately to help bring these awful waiting times down.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it expects children and families to receive support and access to services as the “earliest opportunity”, regardless of diagnosis.
“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting children and young people with neurodevelopmental profiles of need, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” they said.
“More than £3m was allocated in 2021/2022 to help NHS boards build professional capacity and support children and young people with neurodevelopmental needs.
“As outlined in the National Neurodevelopmental Specification, published in September 2021, we expect that children and families receive the support and access to services that meet their needs at the earliest opportunity, regardless of diagnosis.
“For many children and young people, such support is likely to be community based and should be quickly and easily accessible.”
They added: “Separately, we have established the National Autism Implementation Team, in partnership with Queen Margaret University, to support the redesign of autism diagnostic services.
“The team is working with NHS boards to examine diagnostic pathways for autism and establish regional experts.”