MPs debated mental health and autism for an hour in the House of Commons yesterday. The debate was put forward by Heidi Allen MP, Lisa Cameron MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP.
 
Whilst autism is not a mental health condition, over 70% of autistic people develop a mental health problem in their lifetime. This is why it’s important that mental health interventions work for autistic people.
 
Lisa Cameron MP asked about NHS England’s mental health plan which proposes the development of a new ‘care pathway’ for autism. She wanted to make sure that it covers autism diagnosis, autism training for all mental health staff, and making reasonable adjustments to mental health treatments.  Whilst she noted that Government had made welcome commitments on mental health, she expressed concern that on the ground there were difficulties with getting the right help for people who needed it. This was echoed by a number of MPs during the debate.
 
A number of MPs talked about the importance of GPs recording autism on people’s medical records. This is important so that GPs can make sure they are making ‘reasonable adjustments’ for their patients who are on the autism spectrum and can communicate effectively with them and better understand their needs.

We have been calling on the Government and NHS England to improve the recording of autism in individuals’ GP records.
Following our calls, the National Institute of Care and Excellence (NICE) recommended that all GPs record autism on their records, but this is yet to be backed by Government. Shadow Health Minister, Sharon Hodgson asked the Minister if NICE’s crecommendation would be implemented.
 
The long waits for an autism diagnosis were raised by a number of MPs from all parties. Kevan Jones MP said that in Durham people had to wait longer than two years and asked what was being done to bring these long waits down. In her reply for the Government, Health Minister Jackie Doyle Price reiterated her commitment to properly collect and publish the length of time it takes to get a diagnosis and acknowledged that people were waiting too long. Our charity hopes this will lead to further concrete action to bring down lengthy waiting times in future. 

Thangam Debbonaire MP focussed on the positive effect employment had on mental health and wellbeing and contrasted that with the low rates of autism and employment. She talked about our Autism Employment Gap report which shows that just 32% of autistic people are in paid work despite 77% wanting to work. 

She also praised the work of her local Bristol Autism Spectrum Service (BASS) who, with our charity, she ran the first ever autism specific MP surgery in her constituency. In responding, the Minister Jackie Doyle Price MP said she would welcome a ‘tool kit’ so that other MPs could do the same in their constituencies. 

Co-chair of the Autism and Education Inquiry, Huw Merriman MP said he also had an autism only surgery the previous week, but this was because every constituent that came to see him had an autism related issue. A fact that speaks for itself. 

Huw went on to talk about young people’s mental health and what he had heard in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism and National Autistic Society’s Inquiry. The inquiry heard from over 3,000 parents, people on the spectrum and professionals and it found that less than half of autistic children were unhappy in school. The inquiry wants to see a national autism and education strategy to identify gaps in the system and enable autistic children to get the support they need. 

Today’s debate was shortened because of other debates in Parliament. However, earlier in the day, during a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke on disability employment, the Government committed to continue to work at reducing the autism employment gap after a question from the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP.