Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Innovative autism support in Greater Manchester

Mari Saeki, Project Lead for the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium at the National Autistic Society

I lead the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium (GMAC), which is a team in the National Autistic Society’s Policy department. We provide important advice for autistic people and their families in Greater Manchester (GM) and work with health and social care commissioners to improve their support and services.

The unique thing about GM is that we are the only region in England in which health and social care funding is fully devolved. And we have an autism strategy, published in 2019 with backing of Mayor Andy Burnham. Lots of councils have their own autism strategies. But GM is the first region to come together to create a comprehensive strategy in this way, involving 10 different councils and 10 different Clinical Commissioning Groups. This means that they can take action together on important issues like diagnosis, support and social care.

This brings both opportunities and challenges, particularly during the coronavirus outbreak which, as well as its wider impact, has exposed the crisis in social care.

Challenges and solutions

Partnership working is even more relevant at the moment, when resources for health and social care are getting ever tighter. And we are preparing ourselves for tougher times ahead as we expect funding to be even more challenging as the country recovers.

GMAC plays a coordination and support role with our partners. This includes autistic people, parent carers and professionals from many different fields and disciplines, as well as commissioners and leaders. The GM Autism Strategy has enabled us to work on things like developing a GM Service Specification on diagnosis and post-diagnosis for adults, training materials, including training for social care assessors, training standards, a reasonable adjustment guide, transition parent seminars and carer resilience workshops.

Working with autistic people is at the core of the consortium. We have the GMAC advisory groups for autistic adults and another for family members as part of our governance. The groups scrutinise and hold GMAC to account. Each has a paid coordinator with lived experience. The groups challenge and support our work and will continue to shape the future of the strategy.

Coronavirus

Coronavirus has been devastating for many people, and the disruption has hit autistic people and their families particularly hard. Lots of our recent conversations with families have been about the impact on social care services (like day services and short breaks services) being suspended during the pandemic. We are concerned about the effect on families long term if this support is not reinstated soon.

It has affected the way we provide support too, pushing us to find a way to deliver our parent seminars online. Our facilitators (all parents of autistic young people and adults) developed an online version of the seminars – and I’m happy to say they’re now live.

Conclusion

GMAC has shown us that working closely together is rewarding and necessary. The partnership gives us energy to carry on and offers us innovation and creativity. But we also need more support from central government.

It’s well understood that there are not enough support and services for autistic people. This is in large part a result of years of underinvestment, particularly in social care. People working in the sector have been warning that the system is on its knees for years and now, after coronavirus, everyone can see it.

The Government must urgently honour the heroic efforts of care staff who have kept things going in incredibly difficult circumstances and find a long-term funding solution. And the reforms must reflect that social care is not just about people over 65 and those with chronic physical and mental health issues – it’s also for many neurodiverse people facing often hidden challenges, including autistic people.

Find out more: autism.org.uk or autismgm.org.uk

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