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Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019

We are absolutely resolute in our commitment to improving care and support for autistic people, and we will launch a refreshed autism strategy, which will include children, by the end of the year. We have also launched a national call for evidence, to hear what we are doing that works and where we need to do more, and we have already received more than 2,000 responses.

I welcome the NHS long-term plan and the steps that will go towards helping autistic people in the healthcare system. Does the Minister agree that we will make a real difference only if we improve the recording of autism in local health and care records? Will she therefore commit to requiring the NHS to record autism diagnoses in each area with the aim of improving autistic people’s health?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Reasonable adjustments are critical for improving the experiences of health and care for autistic people. That is why the long-term plan commits to a digital flag in patient records, which will ensure that staff know whether a patient has a learning disability or autism. At the same time, we are looking at how we record where a diagnosis of autism has been made.

In 2017, more than 100 MPs wrote to the then Health Secretary demanding a national target of a three-month waiting time for autism diagnosis because waits were more than four years in some areas. Stockton clinical commissioning group and Stockton Council have reduced waits, but what do current figures show? Will the Government now set a target in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance?

I am pleased the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, because he is absolutely right that we need to drive up performance nationally on diagnosis for autistic people. It is only with diagnosis that people can get the support and help they need. We are collecting data for the first time. It will be published later this year for the first time. It will mean that each area can be held to account and given the help and support it needs to drive up those figures.

Will the Minister further outline the steps that have been taken to push for a UK-wide, ring-fenced uplift to respite care funding for those who suffer from autism, bearing in mind that there is a two-year waiting list in some healthcare trusts for families to access overnight respite care?

That is a really good point. We all know that access to respite care can be incredibly valuable, both for autistic people and their carers and their loved ones. That is why we are supporting CCGs that want to invest in respite care, and we are looking more carefully at how we can direct funding to these important services.

Eight years after the Government pledged to move autistic people out of in-patient units following the Winterbourne View scandal, there are still 2,260 people in such units, many of whom are subject to restraint, over-medication, seclusion and even neglect. Rather than reviews and warm words, will the Secretary of State now act to change things by matching Labour’s pledge of £350 million of extra funding to move autistic people and people with learning disabilities back into the community where they belong?

Of the original 2015 cohort that the hon. Lady mentioned, 6,325 people have been discharged and 476 beds have been decommissioned, but the thing is that people are still coming in. The only way we can achieve permanent, long-term cuts is if we invest in community health. That is why the long-term plan commits to an extra £4.5 billion a year for community health. Local providers are expected to use some of that to develop the right specialist services in the community to reduce avoidable admissions.