Confronting the barriers to ADHD services

Drawing of a brain with the word 'ADHD' underneath it.

Jainoor Rana, former PHAA intern


The Australian Senate recently authorised its Community Affairs Committee to conduct an inquiry into assessment and support services for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The announcement is the result of a proposal spearheaded by Western Australian Senator Jordon Steele-John in response to public feedback to a survey identifying significant access barriers to ADHD assessment and support services in Australia.

Steele-John is the Greens spokesperson on Disability Services, Health, and Mental Health, and has his own lived experience with Cerebral Palsy. The Senator has a track record of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in his pre-parliamentary career and in the Senate.

Senator Jordon Steele-John (pictured centre) with others around next to sign that says 'Disabled and Proud'. Picture is at an ADHD inquiry submission writing workshop in Perth.
Senator Jordon Steele-John (centre) at a Perth writing workshop for ADHD inquiry submissions.

In response to concerns voiced by his constituents, Senator Steele-John’s office created an online survey to learn more about the barriers to ADHD diagnosis, treatment, and support. The survey drew an astonishing response from over 10,000 people.

Steele-John says, “The results are confronting to say the least… In particular, a large proportion of respondents shared issues with cost, wait time and stigma from their healthcare providers.”

ADHD impacts around 1 million Australians, and is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. The commonly misunderstood disorder can cause significant impairment and dysfunction, but effective treatment can profoundly improve people’s function and lives. Unfortunately, many Australians face significant barriers to accessing this life-changing help.

Senator Steele-John is critical of the lack of attention to ADHD as a health issue. “The serious long-term impacts of ADHD are well-established, yet we have not seen a single substantive conversation about the condition in Parliament over the past five years.”

He sees the Senate Committee inquiry, which will report in September this year, as the first step to understanding and addressing barriers to adequate ADHD assessment and care. The hope is that it will facilitate permanent “policy interventions to improve accessibility and outcomes in this space”.

With the daunting costs of private professional diagnosis – often reaching around $1,000 for an initial appointment – the Greens say that the ADHD community needs full Medicare coverage of ADHD assessment and support services, as well as recognition of the condition as a primary disability under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

As part of the inquiry process, the Committee is seeking community consultation to collect the best data regarding barriers to “consistent, timely and best practice assessment and support services for ADHD”. Submissions are open until 9th June 2023.

The inquiry terms of reference cover adequacy of access to diagnosis, supports after assessment, and medication; treating practitioners’ education and attitudes; gender bias’ influence; and the NDIS’ role for ADHD. The inquiry also aims to explore topics including research funding, government services, “the social and economic cost of failing to provide adequate and appropriate ADHD services;… the viability of recommendations from the Australian ADHD Professionals Association’s Australian evidence-based clinical practice guideline for ADHD”, and “international best practice for ADHD diagnosis, support services, practitioner education and cost”.

The submission process can be challenging for many, especially those who are themselves in the ADHD community, and the inquiry has taken steps to improve accessibility.

Senator Steele-John’s office has also published a submission cheat sheet, a submission template, and even held a submission writing workshop in Perth. Anyone requiring additional assistance is encouraged to contact the Committee Secretariat to make a video or verbal submission, or to discuss other ways to have a say in the inquiry.

The public health community supports the meaningful involvement and empowerment of people with ADHD to influence policy decisions that affect their health and wellbeing. PHAA will be making a submission to the inquiry in line with its policy position statement on disability and health. Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser Malcolm Baalman invites anyone in the public health community to contribute through the PHAA National Office.

“We strongly urge organisations and individuals with experience in this space to support reform to ADHD assessment and support services in Australia,” said Baalman.

“We urgently need to address the gap between what the ADHD community needs and what it’s receiving. This inquiry will be a very important means of achieving that goal.”


Image: Tara Winstead/Pexels


Note: Second image added 29/5/23. Final paragraph updated 29/5/23 to correct error.

Leave a Reply