A TORY MSP has been accused of making “unsubstantiated claims” which could cause “undue stress and anxiety” for patients after suggesting an NHS waiting list could stretch back three decades.

In a press release issued last week, which was reported by local media, Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett claimed NHS Grampian “potentially faces a 32-year backlog of adult autism spectrum referrals”.

The figures were based on a freedom of information (FOI) request, which found only 55 patients had been assessed across the North East in the past two years, while around 850 are currently waiting to be seen.

However, the health board said they had been taken out of context, as the service had only started in July 2021 and the impact of the pandemic meant fewer cases had initially been assessed after it was up and running.

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In the information provided to the Tories, it stated it was unable to provide the current waiting time, but people being referred into the service could expect to wait two years before being assessed.

NHS Grampian said waits are “longer than we would like” but are “not remotely near the level claimed”.

In the statement, Burnett, the co-founder of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on autism, said: “Across the Grampian health board area, autism assessment times for younger people are being managed effectively. And in the past, 50 adults being seen in a year would be seen as average.

“But there has unquestionably been a massive increase in adult referrals which use the same limited resources available to NHS Grampian and the health and social care partnership.

“The lack of any nationally agreed standards or assessment time expectations could mean that both boards and patients are flying blind.”

A spokesperson for NHS Grampian said: “We categorically do not recognise the discrepant claims of a ‘32-year backlog’ in adult autism referrals.

“Such unsubstantiated claims – that take figures out of context – can create undue stress and anxiety for patients at an already difficult times in their lives.

“The service came into existence and started seeing patients in July 2021. During its initial period, fewer cases were assessed due to the ongoing pandemic and its effects.

“As awareness of the service has grown, the number of referrals has increased greatly. During the last

15 months, the number of patients seen and the team capacity have both increased.”

The spokesperson added: “While waiting times are longer than we would like, we would reassure patients that they are not remotely near the level claimed.

“The average waiting time for a diagnostic appointment for autistic spectrum conditions – including autism and Aspergers – in the last two years has been 322.4 days.

“With the steep rise in referrals, the current wait is now more than two years, and we are continuing to take action to improve this.

“We will continue to communicate directly with our patients about their individual wait.”

It is not the first time Tory claims on waiting times from data obtained through FOI have been refuted by NHS Grampian.

In January, suggestions that a patient waited nearly five years for a “crucial diagnostic” CT scan were widely reported, with Tory health spokesperson Dr Sandesh Gulhane describing it as “scarcely believable” that certain patients had been waiting that long for a “potentially life-saving” test.

But NHS Grampian then said they related to pre-planned and scheduled scans for checkups on patients who have already been treated for conditions, such as cancer.

The issue was raised at Holyrood with then first minister Nicola Sturgeon saying: “I am conscious that the Conservatives claimed this weekend that there are five-year waits for diagnostic tests and that they described that as ‘scarcely believable’. There is, of course, a reason for that – which is that it is simply untrue.”