Adult group on beachThe Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) latest State of Care report has warned that many people in England miss out on getting the health and care support they need. It says that the support people get often depends on where they live. We know that this is the case for many autistic people, who struggle to get an autism diagnosis and get the right support for their mental health or from their GP or social care services. This is unacceptable. 

There is a big opportunity to fix these problems. In the summer, the NHS announced that it would develop a new ten-year strategy for the NHS, called the Long Term Plan. They also said that autism would be one of their priorities in the plan. It’s vital that this leads to improved services for autistic people, when the final plan is published which should be towards the end of the year.

In particular, the State of Care report highlights:

- Too many people can’t get support for their mental health needs near where they live. This can mean they have to travel hundreds of miles for help. Many people are being pushed to “crisis point”. We know that this is sadly true for some autistic people and we have been calling on NHS England to make sure mental health services in every area can support autistic people’s needs. At the moment there are around 1,000 autistic people stuck in inappropriate mental health hospitals – a number that has increased in recent years. 

The report includes a quote from an autistic man, saying, “Autism services should exist everywhere… [with] diabetes, you don’t have, you know, that there’s a diabetes service in the city, but there isn’t one in the country… there’s one everywhere… nobody says, 'Oh, we can’t afford to provide diabetes services everywhere', because they know if they don’t do it, it will cost more money and it’s unethical to leave people suffering without help...” We agree. We believe that specialist autism teams in every area should be part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

- Long autism diagnosis waiting times are making it much harder for people to get the support they need.
The report highlights findings from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, showing a postcode lottery of long diagnosis waiting times. This means people find it harder to get the right support. Again, we are calling on NHS England to tackle the autism diagnosis crisis in its Long Term Plan.

- Autistic people report poor experiences of primary care.
The report says that autistic people going to their GP or dentist don’t feel that they get the support they need. We believe this is often down to poor understanding of autism and the reasonable adjustments that can help autistic people. We’re calling for the NHS Long Term Plan to include a national training programme and better recording of autism in GP records.

- Unmet need continues to increase. Although the report has found that most social care support is still good quality, it also concludes that many people simply cannot get any support for their needs because there isn’t enough funding. The CQC says that social care funding needs to be improved. We are part of the Care and Support Alliance, a group of charities who are campaigning together for more funding for adult social care.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Today’s CQC report is yet another reminder to the Government and NHS England about how far we still have to go to create a society that works for autistic people.
“Far too many autistic people have to wait many months, sometimes even years for a diagnosis and support, just because of the poor or overstretched services where they live. Long waits can be traumatic for autistic people and their families who are often desperate for help and at risk of developing mental health problems.  
“We are pleased that the CQC has recognised these failings in the system. The NHS’ upcoming Long Term Plan has identified autism as a clinical priority and this is a huge opportunity to address the unacceptable health inequalities faced by autistic people. For the 700,000 autistic people in the country to benefit, the plan must increase and improve diagnostic and support services, including adapted mental health therapies, so they are available when and where people need them – and before crisis point.”