NHS England has announced that autism and learning disabilities will be a priority in its plan to improve health services.
The announcement has been welcomed across the sector. 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.'
Alicia Wood, Head of Public Affairs at Dimensions, said, '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 to have a raft of health issues 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 wide scale 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 that 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.'