NAS and Tory MP voice concerns over autism strategy

Concerns are being raised that the government’s forthcoming adult autism strategy for England will not include two key planks regarded as essential.

The National Autistic Society and Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan are worried that it will not include either:

  • a requirement for local areas to set up specialist teams to provide more support for adults with autism; or
  • a requirement for local areas to establish autism planning groups.

The strategy is not due for publication until 22 February, but Gillan, who sponsored last year’s Autism Bill before it was taken up by the government, has become sufficiently alarmed to arrange a meeting with health secretary Andy Burnham for this Monday to clarify what it will include.

The fears arose after comments made by care services minister Phil Hope at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism last week.

In a letter to Hope, Gillan expressed her disappointment that the government had “not taken aboard the point of developing specialist teams as a means to enable local mainstream services to deliver appropriate support for adults with autism.”

Her letter said the teams were regarded as best practice and cited last year’s National Audit Office report, which showed 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.

Her letter also referred to “the big difference that can be made” through the setting up of autism planning groups, similar to learning disability partnership boards”, adding: “The concern is also that these will not be established.”

Gillan added she was concerned at a plan to widen the groups of professionals able to diagnose autism, which she said increased the risk of “over-and-misdiagnosis”.

The NAS said it believed that ministers thought that setting up specialist teams would lead to a large new service when its vision is for a small group of people who would be able to build capacity among mainstream services.

Hope’s office is yet to receive the letter, but a DH spokesperson said: “The autism strategy is still being developed. We are considering the views of a range of experts and stakeholders to ensure it enables all people with autism to live as full and equal citizens.”

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