Local MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, Huw Merriman, has welcomed the Government’s publication of an action-plan to help autistic people and their families to get better help and services in the community.
The newly published Autism Strategy sets into motion a pathway of work for the next five years, with nearly £75 million being spent in the first year alone, to tackle the inequalities and barriers autistic people and their families face. The strategy was launched in Parliament by the Minister for Social Care, Helen Whately, and Mr Merriman.
In 2019, the All Party Group held a wide-ranging inquiry across and took evidence on the issues that mattered most to over 12,500 autistic people and their families. Whilst the resulting report showed some progress in increased recognition in autism, the All Party Group found issues with lengthy diagnosis waiting times and a concerning level of unmet need. Recommendations were made by Mr Merriman and the All Party Group and these have been accepted in the Strategy.
Over the next five years, the Strategy will see £10.5 million invested into reducing diagnosis waiting times for young people and £2.5 million invested to improve the quality of adult diagnostic and post-diagnostic pathways and diagnosis waiting times.
£18.35 million will be provided to prevent crises and avoidable admissions into inpatient care, improve the quality of care for autistic people in inpatient mental health services and facilitate discharges back into the community.
A long-term, nationwide initiative to increase public understanding of autism will be launched as part of the Strategy alongside a programme to improve understanding of autism amongst education professionals, job centre staff and frontline staff in the justice system.
Commenting, Mr Merriman, MP for the Bexhill and Battle constituency said:
“I was delighted to help launch the Autism Strategy. It reflects the evidence collected by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism two years ago, and the recommendations we made to Government. Autistic people and their families deserve efficient diagnosis pathways and comprehensive support to lead fulfilling lives. This strategy is an important step in delivering and facilitating this.
“I would also like to pay tribute to my late colleague, and former Chair, Dame Cheryl Gillan. Her dedication to, and advocacy on behalf of autistic people and their families has seen the Autism Strategy come to fruition, and it is a great shame that she passed away before being able to witness this milestone achievement.
“We now look to the future. My colleagues and I will work together to scrutinise the Strategy and ensure it works to deliver the improvements autistic people and their families need in education, health, care, criminal justice and public understanding, and that it meets the standards our much-missed friend Dame Cheryl would have expected.”