New autism bill ‘would improve services’


New laws proposed by an MP would lead to an improvement in services for people with autism, say autistic rights campaigners.

The autism (quality standards) bill has been introduced by the Conservative MP Robert Buckland, who has a son with autism.

Buckland’s proposed legislation – introduced under the Commons “ten-minute rule bill” procedures – would force the government to ask the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to publish “quality standards” for social care and health services for people with autism.

Among the 10 areas the standards would cover are staff training, and information about autism and the support available for those who have been newly diagnosed, and their carers.

Those who have been newly diagnosed would also be given a profile laying out their strengths, skills, impairments and needs as the basis for a plan that includes learning, communication and emotional health.

And there would be an autism strategy group in every area to help plan services, with membership to include people with autism.

The National Autistic Society has worked closely on the bill with MPs and peers on the all-party parliamentary group on autism, including Buckland.

Buckland said his bill highlighted the “vital importance” of bringing together health and social care, which was “not before time”.

He said such quality standards would show those who commission services the “gold standard of provision”, while service-users would be “made aware of the standards that they should expect from service providers”.

He added: “Maybe, just maybe, the lives of thousands of people with autism can be made better.”

The 2009 Autism Act aimed to improve services for people with autism and was England’s first impairment-specific act.

The act was followed by Labour’s adult autism strategy for England, which was heavily criticised by the autistic rights movement for its failure to demand real change from councils and health trusts.

Guidance subsequently published late last year by the new coalition government was also criticised as weak and “seriously flawed”.

Campaigners say the quality standards would provide stronger protection for people with autism than the three sets of guidelines on autism that NICE is already developing.

Russell Stronach, co-chair of the Autistic Rights Movement United Kingdom (ARM UK), welcomed the new bill, and said it should lead to an improvement in services if it became law.

He said the bill “looks absolutely in the right general direction”, although there would be areas they would hope to improve over the coming months.

The Department of Health said it would not comment on the bill until it was debated by MPs at its second reading in November.

A spokeswoman added: “It will be when it is debated that the government sets out its thoughts on it.”

8 June 2011