Working with mental health trusts and community paediatric services to improve the assessment process for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Since April 2020, we have been working with mental health trusts and community paediatric services to improve the assessment process for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) using computer-based tests (measuring attention, impulsivity and activity).


ADHD is neurobiological – a disorder of brain development that impacts on behaviour, affecting around 5% (1 in 20) of school aged children. ADHD is a treatable disorder yet if left untreated, can have significant impact on personal development, academic outcomes and family interaction.

There is no simple test to determine whether a child has ADHD. The process for diagnosing or ruling out ADHD is variable across England. It will often include multiple steps and is based on clinical judgement informed by subjective reports from parents, teachers and observation of the patient. As such, children in the UK wait 18 months (average) to obtain an accurate diagnosis, more than the European average of 11 months. Multiple clinic visits over this period result in significant costs to the NHS, estimated at £23 million.


  • Increase in the number of children and young people who have an objectives assessment as part of the clinical assessment.
  • Reduction in time for assessment and decision making (from first referral to decision to diagnose/rule out).
  • Reduction in number of outpatient appointments between referral and diagnosis.
  • Reduction in nurse observation visits in schools.
  • Improved patient / family satisfaction / experience.
  • Improved clinician satisfaction and confidence in diagnosing or excluding ADHD.


The core element of this programme will involve work with NHS trusts across England to improve the ADHD assessment offer to children and young people by implementing an objective assessment tool (measuring attention, impulsivity and activity) to supplement current clinical assessment processes.

Research has shown that the use of an objective assessment tool alongside other clinical information, can provide a more rapid diagnosis (with reductions of around five months) after fewer patient visits, improving patient, family and clinician experience. The assessment tool offers instant results that present a report comparing a child’s or young person’s results against a normative data-set, based on age and gender.

The AHSN Network is staggering the start of this programme, commencing in April 2020 with the first wave of AHSNs. The first step will be for each AHSN region to map the ADHD service profile and local needs within their area. Most AHSNs have at least one Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or paediatric service that currently offer an objective assessment as part of their assessment process.

To support improvements in the assessment pathway, AHSN teams will work closely with trusts to help them consider the levels of inefficiencies and unmet need that will influence whether local stakeholders will have an appetite to deliver the programme.