By Rachel Schraer
Nottinghamshire council is proposing to scrap its pioneering dedicated social care team for adults with Asperger syndrome, as part of a massive overhaul of its services for younger adults.
The adults with Asperger’s team is the first of its kind in the country and has been widely lauded as an example of best practice, caring for an estimated 10% of the adult population living with Asperger’s in Nottinghamshire.
Service users and their families expressed shock at the announcement, fearing the smaller teams of mental health staff the service will be replaced by will not have the same expertise to deal with what is a highly complex developmental condition.
However, the council said it is facing “exceptional financial challenges” and has no choice but to work more efficiently with fewer resources.
The proposal to scrap the Asperger’s team comes as part of a package of wide reaching proposed cuts from the council.
In a bid to save £154m a year by 2016-17, the council is stripping back adult care services across the board and reducing younger adult care management teams by almost a quarter, meaning safeguarding work will only be available to those “at immediate risk of significant harm”.
It is also proposing a 10% cut in older people’s assessment and care management teams, the shortfall of which will be picked up by council’s customer service centre.
According to a summary of the proposals, the council is now “exploring the potential for providers, service users and carers to become more involved in detailed support planning”. It adds: “Social workers spend 25-35% of their time inputting data onto systems and a proportion of this time could be removed through the creation of a dedicated data inputting team”.
Tom Purser, senior policy and participation officer for central England at the National Autism Society, said: “It is no exaggeration to call the adults with Asperger’s team pioneering. It was the first social care specific Asperger’s team in the UK and has since been consulted by numerous local authorities seeking to establish their own teams.
“Disbanding the team will take Nottinghamshire from being a national leader in autism services to being behind the curve.”
Marilyn, a full-time carer for her son Chris, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2008, said: “When Chris was first diagnosed, I felt completely isolated. I had so many questions and so much to do but didn’t know where to turn for information and support.
“But the Asperger’s team changed everything. Their expertise helped me to develop strategies to support Chris and to access disability benefits, which made a huge difference to our lives. For the first time, I feel like we have a safety net, that we’re supported by people who really understand Chris’ complex condition.”
She expressed concerns that the team of mental health professionals would not have appropriate experience to provide this same safety net.
The council has launched a consultation about the proposals, which will run until 17 January. Some service users have already begun campaigning against their implementation.