Councillor Phil Davies
Chair, Wirral Health & Wellbeing Board
16 Westbourne Grove
Dear Councillor Davies
I should like to draw to your attention the very poor progress that is being made in Wirral in respect of the implementation of the Autism Act and national guidance 2010. As you will be aware, Wirral Autistic Society is the fifth largest autism charity in this country with a national reputation for excellence in the delivery of specialist services to people with autism. My fundamental concerns about Wirral are as follows:
- No Joint Strategic Needs Assessment has yet been produced in respect of the needs of people with autism. I personally worked very closely with the previous designated autism lead and John Highton to try to flesh out a draft JSNA. Just before he left, Russell Grant sent to me a draft document that was of such poor quality I wondered whether we had been in the same meetings. This has now been picked up by the new lead, Kenny Robinson and, despite various requests to see where the JSNA for people with autism is up, to my requests have been ignored. Fundamentally I should like to know how Wirral is going to commission services for people with autism without knowing how many people with autism there are and what their needs are.
- We have had three autism leads in Wirral, none of whom have forged any links with people with autism and their families or carers. These appointments appear to be completely tokenistic; tacking the title “Autism Lead” on to someone’s other job is of no use unless the person has time to explore the world of autism. I would also add that in my view the autism leads that have been appointed have a very poor understanding and experience of autism.
- There has been absolutely no contact with people with autism and their families and carers and a consistent refusal to set up a mechanism to enable this to happen. Initially I was told that autism would be represented by the Learning Disability Partnership Board. This being despite the fact that only a third of people with autism also have a learning disability, and the fact that the statutory guidance recommended the establishment of an Autism Partnership Board. I am now told that there is to be a Disability Partnership Board with an autism ‘work stream’. I have asked what this means, but to no avail. When is this to be set up, what are the terms of reference how will membership be identified?
On the positive side, there has been autism awareness training for front line staff, but there is a general lack of understanding about the needs of people with autism and in particular about their support needs. I am extremely concerned that the current administration has now decided that there is no such thing as specialist provision and that all providers of services are the same. This of itself blatantly demonstrates a complete disregard for one of the most excluded and vulnerable group of people in society. Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support, wrote to to Directors of Adult Social Services and to Chairs of Health & Wellbeing Boards on 2 August 2013 in respect of a national survey on progress in the implementation of the national guidance. The survey is to be completed by 30 September. The letter also says:
‘The response for your Local Authority area should be agreed by the Autism Partnership Board or equivalent group, and the ratings validated by people who have autism’
The letter also requires that the return when it is completed is discussed by the Health & Wellbeing Board by the end of January 2014. How are these actions to be effected when there are no established mechanisms in Wirral?
I wrote to the Chief Executive, Graham Burgess, on 23 July and 6 August about my extreme concerns at the way the needs of people with autism are being completely disregarded but, to date, I have not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgement.
We are partners in the National Autistic Society’s ‘Push for Action’ campaign which is aimed at raising awareness about the poor progress in implementing the autism national guidance generally, but in Wirral this is a real and live issue that needs to be resolved.
I am copying this letter to other members of the Health & Wellbeing Board, to our local MPs, to the NAS and will be distributing this to our network of families and people with autism, in order that they can testify to the disgraceful way in which people with autism and their families and carers are being treated.
I would be very happy to meet with you to discuss these concerns, but more importantly, I really need to see evidence that Wirral will acknowledge the needs of people with autism and give them a voice as is their democratic right.
DIANNE ASHER (Dr)