Five NHS commissioning groups in London are proposing devastating cuts to services for Autistic children. Cuts risk leaving families unable to cope, and will damage children’s health and prospects; all because of Tory cuts to health service funding.
BBC News, amongst others, reported today that a group of NHS bodies in South-West London are proposing to ration the number of children and young people who can access specialist Autism care and support. They plan to do this by refusing to assess children who might have autism and provide them with a diagnosis.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean there will be fewer autistic children in South-West London. It does, however, mean that there will be fewer children diagnosed with autism, and so able to access the support and extra care they, and their families and schools, desperately need.
Isn’t this illegal?
Putting forward these cuts is a coalition of five NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) covering Kingston, Merton, Richmond, Wandsworth and Sutton. CCGs are the organisations within the health service who decide how to spend the health budget in their local area. Made up of local NHS managers and staff, CCGs are unelected, and not democratically accountable for their decisions.
Although there is a legal requirement for CCGs, working with local authorities, to provide access to autism assessments, diagnosis, and specialists for adults (under the Autism Act 2009), there is no similar specific law protecting the rights of children who have, or may have, the condition.
CCGs do, though, have a general legal duty to children and young people. The National Autistic Society has written to the five CCGs involved saying that they believe this decision would be illegal.
Why does it matter?
Head of policy at the National Autistic Society, Sarah Lambert, said:
“If it goes ahead, this will leave many local children without access to a diagnosis and unable to access the specialist support they desperately need.
“That will threaten their long-term prospects and put a greater strain on many already vulnerable families.
“An autism diagnosis can be life-changing. It can explain years of feeling different and help unlock crucial advice and support.”
There are roughly 700,000 autistic people in the UK. Without a diagnosis – and the specialist support to which people then have access – there is a wealth of evidence that autistic children fail to thrive in school, struggle to manage relationships, and often are not able to hold down, or even access, a job when they reach adulthood.
In response to the National Autistic Society, a spokesperson for the CCGs involved told the BBC that “We want to be clear that nothing has been decided by the CCGs or changed at this time and no change will happen in the next 12 months.” They also committed to engaging with local ‘stakeholders’ and “talking to local people before reaching any conclusions on the way forward”.
All to save money.
Although nobody has said this publically, it is clear that the desire to cut access to this vital service is motivated by the NHS’s current, desperate, need to save cash because of chronic underfunding.
The London and St George’s mental health trust, which provides autism services in South-West London, has waiting lists of ten months to access a diagnosis. The trust is also working at almost double the level of demand it is funded to, often seeing 25 referrals each week despite only being staffed to see 750 new patients in an entire year.
It is self-evident that an adequately funded NHS, with sufficient staff, would not be having to make these cuts. Cuts which endanger the health and welfare of children in this country and severely limit their ability to live a happy and full life.
You can stop this happening, and stop it spreading across the UK.
On June 8th, the UK votes in a general election. We have an opportunity to remove the current, Conservative, government from power.
We can replace the Tories, who have done so much damage, with a progressive alternative committed to ending NHS privatisation and providing proper funding to ensure that everyone can access free at the point of use healthcare, whenever they need it.
Not only for the children of South-West London and their families but to ensure that this hideous proposal doesn’t get copied elsewhere, please use your vote to do whatever you can to get Theresa May’s government out.