Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has today (27 January 2015) set out the importance of improving support for people with autism by health and care services.
Speaking at an event at the Kings Fund where he was setting out details of Labour’s plans for the NHS, Mr Burnham said:
Our aspiration is to create a service that supports people with dementia, autism and mental ill health as well as it treats cancer.”
We welcome this and urge whichever party or parties form the next Government to make this aspiration a reality by:
1) Addressing the lack of awareness and understanding of autism across health and care services
Training in autism must urgently be included in the core curricula for doctors, nurses and other clinicians, as well as social workers. Further training is needed for those who provide direct support for people with autism.
The Department of Health committed to making this happen five years ago, but progress has been slow. Without this understanding professionals such as GPs and assessors for social care are unable to identify needs properly and refer people with autism on for appropriate help and support.
In addition, those responsible for directly helping people with autism and their families are unable to do so effectively without the right level of training.
2) Action is needed to ensure that people with suspected autism can access diagnosis in a timely way and can access post diagnostic support
Despite the publication of NICE Guidelines and Quality standards on diagnosis and post diagnostic support, getting an autism diagnosis is still taking far too long.
In the survey:
• 30% of respondents said it took less than a year to get a diagnosis (from the point of first raising their concerns with a professional
• For 30% it took between 1 and 2 years
• For 34% of people, it took 3 years or more
We need to make local health bodies more accountable for meeting the standards and guidelines through ensuring that they are measured on their progress. Local health bodies also need to be incentivised to prioritise the development of effective diagnostic pathways.
3) Widening eligibility criteria
Pressure of local authority funding and the tightening of eligibility criteria for support from social care has meant that adults with autism are increasingly locked out of the care system and are unable to get the help they need.
Support for some adults with autism and particularly those with Asperger syndrome might be relatively low in cost to provide, such as help finding a job or social skills training, but can be life changing and save money to the public purse in the long run.
Significant investment in the care system should be a priority for the next Government.
4) Ensuring there is access to very specialist help when needed
Autism is not a mental health problem but as many as 71% of children with autism experience mental ill health.
Four out of five parents responding to the survey told us that there have been times of crisis with their child’s mental health when they needed support, but the majority of these parents were unable to access that support.
Specialist autism capacity should be made available within all tiers of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. New statutory guidance should be issued to commissioners to support the effective planning of appropriate local services for children with autism and mental health problems.