Government Announce Plans to Improve Autism Care and Support
Source: National Autistic Society
The Government has announced plans which could improve the health and wellbeing of autistic people across England. The plans include:
- honouring their commitment to make sure all health and care staff receive training on autism, with £1.4 million funding to develop and test new training
- reviewing the cases of all autistic people in mental health hospitals.
The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has also revealed that he has asked for advice about changing the way mental health law applies to autistic people.
We know from our recent research with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism that two in three autistic people don’t get the support they need. This is one of the reasons autistic children and adults end up at much greater risk of physical and mental health problems.
So today’s plans are welcome and will make a difference. But they must go further to finally end the scandal of autistic people being detained in mental health hospitals. We urge all political parties to make sure their manifestos include plans to invest in social care and community services – and to review the definition of autism in mental health law.
What’s been announced
We’re really pleased that the Government is going to be rolling out mandatory autism training for all health and care staff, finally living up to its duties in the Autism Act. Back in November 2018, the Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage, committed to making this happen during a Parliamentary debate organised in response to a petition by Paula McGowan. Paula has been campaigning for better autism training since the tragic death of her son, Oliver, in 2016. Thousands of autistic people and their families, as well as our charity, backed this petition and made the Government take action. You can read Paula and Oliver’s story on NHS England’s website.
The Government will be extending duties on the NHS and councils to make sure all staff – from receptionists and hospital doctors, to care workers and social workers – get the training they need to properly support autistic people. Our recent research has shown that at the moment, professional understanding is worryingly low. Only 11% of autistic people told us hospital doctors understand autism, while 10% said this for social workers. The plans announced today, and the funding being provided to roll this out, should mean health and care staff understand autistic people better and know how to adapt their care.
Addressing the mental health crisis
The other part of the announcement is about addressing the increasing number of autistic people reported to be in mental health hospitals, with over 1000 autistic people now in stuck there. Just last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a damning report showing how autistic children and adults were being let down by the NHS and social care.
It’s right that the Government is recognising that more needs to be done – and urgently – by committing to review the cases of all autistic people in inpatient units.
While this is an important and welcome step, it won’t stop autistic people from ending up in mental health hospitals in the first place. Along with campaigners like Alexis Quinn, we’ve been calling for a review of the definition of autism as a ‘mental disorder’ under the Mental Health Act. At the moment, the law means autistic people can be sectioned even if they don’t have treatable mental health condition. This is unacceptable. We welcome that the Health and Social Care Secretary has asked for advice about changing this. Whoever makes up the next government must tackle this once and for all.
We also need greater investment in social care services and community mental health services, which have faced years of significant underfunding. At the moment, there’s often nowhere for autistic people to go when they’re ready to leave hospital – or to stop them being admitted in the first place.
We call on all political parties to take concerted action to improve mental health support for autistic people, by reviewing mental health law and putting in place the care and support many autistic people so desperately need in the community.
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:
Today’s announcements are important for making sure autistic people across England are properly understood and supported.
“Hundreds of families across the country will be relieved to see plans to review the care of people in inpatient units and new actions to tackle the disturbing use of seclusion.
“Importantly, the Secretary of State says he has asked for advice about changing the way mental health law applies to autistic people. Currently autistic people can be sectioned even if they don’t have a mental health problem. We believe this is wrong and, alongside autistic campaigner Alexis Quinn, delivered this message straight to Downing Street in August – with a petition signed by over 200,000 people. It is vital to make sure our law and how it applies to autistic people is fit for the 21st century. Whoever makes up our next government must make sure this promise is realised.
“Too many doctors, nurses, social workers and other health and care professionals don’t properly understand autism. Autistic children and adults end up at much greater risk of physical and mental health problems because of this lack of understanding. Today’s commitment to train all health and care staff is a big step forward and is the result of tireless campaigning from people like Paula McGowan.
“To make any of these plans a reality, the next government must also invest in social care and community mental health services. Two in three autistic adults don’t have the support they need. Without it, autistic people can find themselves in a vicious cycle – forced to go into hospital because there’s no support and then unable to leave because there’s no support.”