Friday 14 Mar 2014
A Welsh doctor is warning that NHS resources are so stretched in his community that it is only a matter of time before children diagnosed with behavioural problems become involved in a tragedy.
Tonight, in the BBC Cymru Wales programme Living With Alex (Monday 19 April, BBC One Wales), Merthyr Tydfil GP Professor Jonathan Richards raises serious concerns over a lack of provision in the area for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"We're hanging on by the skin of our teeth and it wouldn't surprise me if we have some kind of catastrophe or disaster in our community in the years to come because there are so many families who are struggling with deprivation; struggling with children with behaviour problems," says Professor Richards. "Whenever I see a catastrophe happening in another community I wonder, 'is Merthyr going to be next?'"
Living With Alex will examine the impact ADHD has on young lives through the experiences of one family living in Merthyr Tydfil.
Seven-year-old Alex, from the Gurnos estate, was diagnosed with ADHD 18 months ago. His mum, 24-year-old Leanne, says living with the condition is difficult. Leanne is speaking out about her experiences to let people know what it's like to live with ADHD in the family.
"He can be violent. He's broken my nose, he's broken his father's nose and I am afraid of my own child," she says. "He should be out playing with his friends and living a life that a child should be living. But he's got no friends and the parents of the people that he does try to be friends with tell them, 'don't bother with Alex, he's a naughty child'."
She says there's a lack of understanding surrounding the condition. Since he was five, Alex has been on medication to counteract the symptoms of ADHD and also takes sleeping tablets at night. Leanne sees the medication as a short-term solution and has concerns over his future.
"All I can see is Alex in 10 years time still on these tablets and out pinching cars and being a thief. That's not what I want for him."
NICE, the body that advises on treatments for the NHS, recommends offering support groups and therapies as well as medication for the condition. But Leanne says she was unaware of any local support services for ADHD sufferers and their families. Professor Richards is concerned that such support services aren't always provided in the area.
"At the moment, sadly the health service doesn’t have the resources to fund the people to provide the counselling services and the behaviour modification services as well as the psychiatric services and the medication. My own experience at the moment would be that if I referred a child today and a diagnosis of ADHD was made then that child would be started on medication and that would be it," he adds.
His concerns are echoed by Keith Towler, the Children's Commissioner for Wales, who has vowed to look into the situation. In the programme, he visits Leanne and is shocked at how lonely and isolated she is.
"The fact that you might live in one post code or another really should not determine the quality of the provision and services that you get as a child," he says.
Cwm Taf Local Health Board says as a principle they follow NICE guidelines but have difficulties prioritising resources in meeting demands.
In Powys, a different approach to treating the condition is taken. The Incredible Years parenting programme, which is being pioneered in Wales by child psychologist Professor Judy Hutchings, is offered as a first-line treatment alongside medication.
"Medication is not going to teach the child to behave in a different way, so the goal for the work we do is to help the parent to support a child in learning different ways of behaving," she says.
BBC Wales showed her some of the footage of Alex filmed over five months and introduced Leanne to Professor Hutchings. And although Leanne struggles to follow the methods of positive praise, with her new-found support she's determined to persevere:
"I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Now there's someone out there actually willing to help me."
And the Children's Commissioner now says he is now going to 'bang the drums' for children with ADHD:
"It's important I do what I can to raise the profile of these issues and to say that at the heart of this are children that have rights. And Alex is a child with rights."
Living With Alex is on Monday 19 April on BBC One Wales at 9.30pm