Britain is right to take a more cautious approach than the US, but we should be prepared to fund a range of treatments
Imagine a neurological condition that affects one in 20 under-18s. It starts early, causes significant distress and pain to the child, damages families and limits the chances of leading a fulfilled life as an adult. One in 20 children are affected but only half of these will get a diagnosis and a fifth will receive treatment. If those stats related to a familiar and well-understood illness, such as asthma, there would be little debate about the need to improve intervention rates. But this is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the outcry is muted. If anything, we hear warnings that too many children are being labelled this way, and too many given prescriptions.
In the United States, ADHD is diagnosed at more than twice the incidence in Britain. The true prevalence is likely to be the same on both sides of the Atlantic. So what’s the story? Is the US too gung-ho, or is the UK dragging its heels? Are American doctors too quick to medicate children, or British doctors too slow?