The National Autistic Society have called it a “potential game changer” for autistic people and their families

On 9th August, NHS England said that 'autism and learning disability' is to be one of four clinical priorities in their upcoming 10 year plan to improve national health services across England.

In a post covering the news online, the National Autistic Society, one of the UK’s leading autism charities, called this “fantastic news” for autistic people and their families, with the potential to make a huge difference to hundreds of thousands of lives.

The NHS is set to talk with organisations, professionals and individuals to identify key issues within each of the four priority areas of focus over the coming months. This potentially offers the opportunity for organisations like the National Autistic Society, as well as autistic individuals and their families to highlight the importance of a timely diagnosis, post-diagnosis support, and training to further awareness of autism and the ways in which healthcare professionals can support autistic patients.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “This is fantastic news. Hundreds of thousands of autistic people and their families will be pleased to hear that their health and wellbeing will be a key priority for NHS England over the next 10 years.

“Far too many autistic people wait for years to get a diagnosis through the NHS and to get the care and support they need. Many autistic people continue to have significantly worse physical and mental health than the general public – and may even be at greater risk of dying early.

“Today’s announcement is a potential game changer. It will mean that autism is a core part of the NHS’ future strategy and that care can be shaped around autistic people’s often hidden needs. We look forward to working with NHS England to make sure this works for autistic people and their families.”

Alicia Wood, Head of Public Affairs at Dimensions went on to respond to NHS England’s pledge to prioritise learning disabilities and autism:

“NHS England’s pledge to prioritise learning disabilities and autism is an important step in the right direction. For too long, people with learning disabilities and autism have experienced unacceptable health inequalities, particularly at the primary care level.

“Dimensions’ latest research revealed that, if you have a learning disability, you are far more likely for a raft of health issues to go undiagnosed and untreated at your GP. Encouragingly, three quarters of GPs are calling for training to address this gap.

“These systemic and training issues in the primary healthcare system urgently need addressing, to ensure that the lives of people with learning disabilities are valued the same as everyone else.

“There needs to be a widescale shift in the attitudes and perceptions around learning disabilities and autism. These are not illnesses in themselves and do not need ‘treating’. People with learning disabilities and autism experience the same mental and physical health issues as everyone else, but may need adjustments so they can access equal treatment and take measures to prevent future health issues.

“We are calling for this pledge to be backed up with rigid measures that ensure all GPs receive mandatory training, co-led by people with learning disabilities, so GPs can better and more confidently communicate and diagnose health issues and identify risk factors.”

There are around 700,000 (1 in 100) people on the autistic spectrum across the UK. Together with their families, 2.8 million people are affected by autism in their daily lives.

A lifelong developmental disability that affects how someone relates to other people, communicates, and how they experience the world, an increasing number of women and girls have begun receiving diagnosis in recent years, widely thought to be due to increased understanding of how autistic women may present with slightly different autistic traits.

The National Autistic Society supports people on the spectrum and their families across the UK. They provide pioneering schools and adult services, information and advice, and conferences and training, as well as working towards educating businesses and the general public to help them understand autism better.

Dimensions support people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs, helping them to lead lives in their local communities.