Backbench Business - Services for People with Autismbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 21st March 2019.

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Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall 1:39 pm, 21st March 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my south-west colleague, Thangam Debbonaire, in this important debate. The National Autistic Society says that there are around 700,000 people on the autistic spectrum in the UK, which is more than one in 100. This means that autism is part of daily life for around 2.8 million people, when we include their families. I therefore welcome this debate on services for people with autism, and I would like to raise two specific points in my contribution today.

First, at my surgery last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a chap called Tigger Pritchard, who is the champion for the National Autistic Society in Cornwall. He is running a great campaign to make Bodmin in my constituency the first autism-friendly town in Cornwall, following the example set by the town of Aylesbury in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington.

Tigger has been sending letters to businesses in Bodmin telling them of the opportunities that they have to help people with autism and their families to become less socially isolated. For example, if shops were to have a period of time in the day when they turned their music down or off, dimmed their lights, reduced till noise and developed staff knowledge of autism, people on the autistic spectrum would have more access to their services. Tigger has had a great response from businesses in Bodmin in the weeks coming up to April, which is Autism Awareness Month. My team and I will be meeting him again so that we can learn a bit more about autism. Should Bodmin manage to become an autism-friendly town, I hope that it will inspire many other communities in Cornwall and across the UK to become more autism friendly.

The second issue I would like to raise relates to the inquiry into the detention of young people with learning disabilities that is being undertaken by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member. Following the 2011 Winterbourne View abuse scandal, the Department of Health and Social Care’s policy response, “Transforming Care” declared that hospitals were not places where people should live. The “Transforming Care” policy regrettably missed its target to move those who were inappropriately placed in hospital or mental health care to community-based support no later than 1 June 2014. I welcome the renewal of the Government’s efforts to ensure that people with autism are not inappropriately placed in hospital care, and NHS England’s efforts to ensure that a similar scandal does not happen again.

On 9 January, the Committee heard evidence for its inquiry from the deputy chief inspector of hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, as well as from NHS England’s national director for learning disabilities and its current national clinical director for learning difficulties. In my view, we need to improve diagnosis and help people as quickly as we possibly can, and I welcome the new approach that NHS England has brought to its complaints procedure. It is called “Ask Listen Do”, and it allows feedback from people with autism and their families to be given and received by organisations more easily, and provides opportunities to improve the experiences of people with autism, but there is still more work to do. There is a long-standing problem of families and carers being excluded from care decisions and not given appropriate information, as we have heard from my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. Moreover, data from the Assuring Transformation collection shows that, although by the end of October 2018 the number of people in learning disability and autism in-patient settings was down from March 2015, the number of under-18s in those settings had more than doubled, to 250.

I encourage people to submit written evidence to the inquiry, so that we can explore how and where we can improve services for those on the autism spectrum. I also want to take this opportunity to encourage all my colleagues in the House to use Autism Awareness Day on 2 April to learn more about autism and to encourage change in their communities to accommodate people on the autism spectrum and their families better. Tigger has kindly offered to come into my office in Cornwall and give us a half-hour training session so that my office can be much more autism aware, and I hope that colleagues will take similar opportunities.