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Health Minister Mark Butler says it is a good thing that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is being identified in more people and does not buy into concerns from some professionals that the condition is being overdiagnosed.
He welcomed the findings of a Senate report, published on Monday evening, that called on the federal government to boost its support for people with ADHD, most of whom are diagnosed and treated in the private sector where they face long waitlists and high out-of-pocket costs that may lead them to delay support.
While some psychiatrists said they were concerned ADHD was being overdiagnosed and overmedicated, Health Minister Mark Butler does not subscribe to that view.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The report said those who do get treatment often face a lack of reliable information, fragmented care and inconsistent prescribing practices, while there was also poor support in schools and correctional facilities for people with the neurodevelopmental disorder.
“Many people with ADHD … have not been able to access the healthcare and supports that they need. This has had lifelong impacts on them and their families, including on their self-esteem, health, relationships, education, employment and financial situation,” it said.
“More could be done to remove barriers for people with ADHD so that they can receive the assessments, healthcare and support they need.”
The Senate committee said Medicare items should be reviewed so more services are subsidised and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme should increase the range of available medications.
But the cross-party committee stopped short of making a wholesale recommendation for ADHD to be included on the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s list of conditions, despite a push from some health groups and the Greens.
“The types of supports that the NDIS was established to provide are the supports that are needed by many people with ADHD,” it said.
“However, whether or not these supports are provided through the NDIS or through other funding mechanisms is also not the point – it is instead ensuring that people get the support they need to live more functional lives.”
There should also be more research into how ADHD presents in girls, women and gender-diverse people, as well as into medication prescribing regimes, it said.
A 2019 Deloitte report, commissioned by the Australian ADHD Professionals Association, estimated about 280,000 children and 530,000 adults in Australia have the disorder.
The number of Australians prescribed medication for ADHD on the PBS has more than doubled in five years, to 414,000 in 2022, while government spending on subsidised drugs rose from $59 million in 2018 to $152 million last year.
Butler said many parts of the health sector had only recently learned how to support people with ADHD.
“This is an area that’s seen a very significant lift in diagnosis rates, we’ve seen about a doubling of prescriptions for medicines for this condition over the last 10 years. And that, broadly, I think is a good thing,” he said on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night.
Butler said he did not agree with the view of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals who argued to the inquiry that ADHD is being overdiagnosed and urged a greater focus on the health and education determiners of symptoms such as impulsivity and hyperactivity.
“[Contests around diagnosis] are not uncommon in the mental health space,” Butler said.
“These are not things you can take a blood test for … but I think it’s been terrific to see just the level of understanding and awareness increase over the last several years.”
Coalition senators who contributed to the Senate report said they agreed with the committee’s view but had concerns about “the lack of consideration of alternative views and areas of focus”, particularly around diagnosing children.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, who proposed the inquiry, said it gave the government a tangible roadmap for bringing down costs, reducing wait times and standardising treatment.
“For the first time, [this report] indicates a willingness by our decision-makers to address the barriers to ADHD care in this country,” he said.
But he was disappointed that Labor and the Coalition did not back the Greens in recommending ADHD be included on the NDIS conditions list.
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