Almost two dozen people had been waiting longer than 13 weeks for autism diagnoses in Herefordshire and Worcestershire in spring.

Many people referred for assessment are being forced to wait too long to access autism-specific support services, as the latest figures from NHS England show a backlog has built up across the country.

As of the end of March, all of the 20 adults and children waiting for an autism assessment in the NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG area had been on the list for more than 13 weeks – the longest time someone should wait for a diagnosis following a referral, according to national guidance.

This was an increase from the 10 patients waiting longer than 13 weeks at the beginning of March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Tim Nicholls, head of influencing and research at the National Autistic Society, said diagnosis can be "life-changing" and is crucial to getting the right help and advice.

“Without proper long-term funding for diagnosis services across the country, we fear that the waiting list will continue to grow and people could be left waiting months or even years for a diagnosis.

"For many of them, this will mean struggling without support at school, work or home."

Across England, there were more than 100,000 people waiting for an autism diagnosis as of the end of March, including 82,000 who had been waiting for at least 13 weeks.

This is up from 53,000 at the start of March 2020, 42,000 of which were more than 13 weeks.

Mr Nicholls cautioned that the latest figures do not give a full picture of how long people are having to wait and called for greater investment.

A Department of Health and Care spokesperson said: “We are investing £5m over the next two years to reduce diagnosis waiting times for autism for children and young people across the country.

“This is in addition to £13 million extra funding we invested last year, which will help develop a national framework with NHS England to ensure children, young people and adults receive higher-quality and faster diagnoses.”