The National Autistic Society has called for a senior civil servant to take responsibility for autism policy nationally, underpinned by a regional lead officials and specialist teams in every local authority area.
The NAS’s proposals, which are yet to be fully costed, include:-
- The appointment of a senior civil servant aided by an autism adviser to take the lead on national policy, with deputy regional directors within government offices having responsibility for regional delivery.
- A specialist autism team in every council area, providing health and social care and jointly funded by councils and primary care trusts.
- An autism planning group for every local authority and PCT partnership to ensure appropriate services are developed through joint commissioning.
- A local autism lead to take responsibility for delivering the strategy, ideally a senior commissioner with health and social care responsibilities.
- The Department of Health to develop national indicators on adults with autism.
- The Care Quality Commission to carry out a review into implementation of the strategy on the first anniversary of its introduction.
- Sufficient training for frontline staff to recognise the signs of autism and better manage the care of people with autism.
NAS admits funding will be tight
Amanda Batten, head of policy and campaigns for the NAS, said the charity acknowledged that funding in the public sector would be tight in the coming years, but she said the short-term set-up costs of local autism teams would be more than outweighed by longer-term savings.
A critical National Audit Office report in June into services for autistic adults found that developing specialist social care, health and housing support services would cost an estimated £40m a year but over time the costs could be outweighed by public expenditure savings.
Batten added: “We do think steps need to be taken. That case has been made by the National Audit Office.”
I Exist campaign
The charity launched a campaign on behalf of adults with autism – I Exist – in 2008. It found that two-thirds of autistic adults lacked support and one in three adults with autism had suffered mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.
The strategy is due to be published by spring next year. Legislation to enforce it is due to receive its final debate in the House of Lords on 15 October, having successfully passed through the Commons.
The bill originated as a private member’s bill, drafted by the NAS and brought by Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan, but effectively became a government bill after care services minister Phil Hope amended it to incorporate the autism strategy.
Ahead of the Lords debate, the NAS will be launching a campaign in Parliament on 13 October aimed at ensuring there is greater support for adults with autism in terms of training, accessing benefits and job opportunities.