A trial of health checks in GP practices are among measures set out in the Government new Autism Strategy, alongside digital ‘flags’ in patient records and investment to reduce waiting times for diagnosis.
A total of £75m pounds of funding this year – £40m of which will be to implement goals in the NHS Long Term Plan – has been earmarked to tackle the inequalities, speed up diagnoses and provide better access to health and social care for people with autism.
Setting out the details, the Government said £10.5m of the committed funding would be for testing and putting in place the best ways to reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and young people as well as proactively identifying those on the waiting list at risk of a crisis.
As part of the strategy, NHS England will be trialling a primary care health check for autistic adults in the North East to try and identify health needs earlier.
GP practices will be taking part in the randomised trial, which aims to recruit 200 autistic adults who have not had a recent NHS health check and will be evaluated by Newcastle University.
Work as already been done to create and validate a health checklist to be used in the trial which will include a pre-appointment questionnaire about their sensory and communication needs, any reasonable adjustments needed and their general health and wellbeing.
NHS England is also developing digital ‘flags’ to be used in patient records so healthcare professionals are aware that someone is autistic and can tailor the support offered. This will be rolled out to 12 early adopter sites this year.
Some of the money will go to boosting availability of post-diagnostic support for children and adults and addressing backlogs in diagnosis made worse by the pandemic, the Government said.
And investment will provide better community support and prevent avoidable admissions of autistic people and those with a learning disability with £18.5m allocated for preventing crises and improving the quality of inpatient mental health settings
The life expectancy gap for autistic people is around 16 years on average and almost 80% of autistic adults experience mental health problems during their lifetime.
There are an estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK.
The five-year strategy also aims to provide better access to education, more help to get into work, and prevent avoidable admissions to healthcare setting.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Improving the lives of autistic people is a priority and this new strategy, backed by almost £75m in the first year, will help us create a society that truly understands and includes autistic people in all aspects of life.
‘It will reduce diagnosis waiting times for children and adults and improve community support for autistic people. This is crucial in reducing the health inequalities they face, and the unacceptable life expectancy gap that exists today.’