One of the most important responsibilities placed upon NHS mental health professionals is the need to provide sensitive and comprehensive care to patients affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
It is estimated that about one in every 100 people in the UK is affected by an ASD, a category of conditions that includes Asperger's syndrome and childhood autism. Patients with these conditions face numerous social problems and stigmas, both in day-to-day life and in care environments.
As such, a new government scheme called Think Autism is being launched to put in place an improved system of support for ASD sufferers, making it easier for doctors and nurses to provide patients with the quality of care they require.
The details of the scheme
Representing an update to the 2010 adult autism strategy Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives, Think Autism was launched following a listening exercise with focus groups, events and online surveys involving thousands of people, including people with autism, carers, professionals and others who work with this patient group.
The aim of the scheme will be to increase awareness and understanding of autism, develop clearer and more consistent pathways for the diagnosis of ASDs, improve access to care and support, enable local partners to develop relevant services and help adults with autism into work.
Moreover, there will be a strong focus on building supportive communities and promoting innovative local ideas and services, while improving advice and information for people affected by the issue.
Around £4.5 million has been allocated to supporting the objectives of Think Autism, which includes money drawn from an Autism Innovation Fund.
Statutory guidance to support the strategy will be issued by the end of the year, with a summary of progress to be published in August next year. Between now and then, the Department of Health will be introducing numerous measures to achieve the goals of Think Autism.
By the end of March 2015, the government will explore the feasibility of research to review the effectiveness of low-level interventions aimed at adults with autism who do not meet FACS social criteria, while assisting with the promotion of a new Autism Passports initiative.
Meanwhile, Department of Health staff will be given access to training on autism and work with arm's-length bodies on including autism in their equality and diversity training before the new year, with guidance and e-learning products developed as a result of the strategy to be publicised next year.
Other measures include creating a new continuing professional development framework for social workers, while information on local progress will be made accessible via a single digital space. Moreover, autism diagnosis guidelines will be reviewed, with NHS England and the Care Quality Commission looking to assess ways of driving up standards in terms of diagnostic pathways.
By taking these steps, the government aims to ensure patients will be able to get access to the right support throughout their lifetimes, develop their skills and independence, and play an equal part in their local communities.
Producing new guidance, updating current guidelines and investing in the creation of national and local services aimed at this patient group will empower medical professionals to play a key role in making this dream a reality.
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