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It is a great honour and privilege to speak about the NHS, which is a fantastic institution. There is no one in this building who has not had some experience of the NHS in some form or another. As I was particularly reminded during the election, the truth is that, in most cases, people’s experience is fantastic—they are treated in a timely, effective and caring way. It is always good to commend the work that many people do in our NHS. However, I heard about the experiences that my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke referred to; in Cornwall, we have had similar experiences, which cause considerable strain on families and the NHS in the area.
I welcome the NHS funding commitment in the Bill, and the fact that it is here to deliver our NHS 10-year plan. It provides the certainty that the NHS and all who work in it need in order to make their own plans. However, as others have already said, it is essential for us to get this right. I hear of countless instances in which NHS care and treatment have been excellent, beyond expectations and timely, but there are two areas in which patients in Cornwall—particularly children and vulnerable people—are being failed by the current provision. Those areas, which are especially relevant to the NHS workforce plan, are the diagnosis and treatment of children, young people and adults with autism, and the shortage of NHS dental appointments.
My heart goes out to the parents and families of children who have autism. They love and care for their children with every ounce of their bodies, but they often have to fight, fight, fight for a diagnosis, for access to adequate support and therapies, and for an understanding of what autism is and what impact a lack of that understanding has on their children’s development. In the past few weeks I have met several parents who are in crisis because they cannot obtain a diagnosis, an education, health and care plan, or adequate support for their children at school, and have little or no access to child and adolescent mental health services.
As I prepared for the debate, I was encouraged to read that the National Autistic Society was looking to the NHS 10-year plan to address, finally, the fact that people wait for many months—even years—for an autism diagnosis, the poor support for autistic people’s mental health, and the insufficient understanding of that learning disability or condition. It is great that the long-term plan recognises the autism diagnosis crisis and announces the NHS’s intention to reduce waiting times, but it would be good to hear from the Minister how the NHS plans to achieve that, and what progress is being made.