HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1680-2W
Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what cross-departmental work is being carried out by his Department and the Department for Education and Skills in respect of those who have been diagnosed as autistic; and if he will make a statement. [153126]

Dr. Ladyman

The Department of Health, in association with the Department for Education and Skills, published good practice guidance on autistic spectrum disorders in July 2002. The guidance was primarily aimed at schools and local education authorities but was also relevant to health and social services providers.

The Government's new strategy for special educational needs (SEN) "Removing Barriers to Achievement", is jointly signed by Ministers from the Departments for Education and Skills (DfES), Health, and Work and Pensions. It sets out a strategy for improving SEN provision, including work focussed on autistic spectrum disorders. The strategy will complement relevant children's programmes, including the children's national service framework (NSF) and the autism exemplar under the NSF. The Department and the DfES will work closely on the development of the exemplar.

Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his policy is on assisting those who have been diagnosed as autistic; and if he will make a statement. [153127]

Dr. Ladyman

The Government's policy is that appropriate services should be provided for children and adults with autism according to each individual's needs.

Most children with autism will need high quality support from health, education and social services. They should receive this through an integrated system. Our recently published Green Paper "Every Child Matters", sets out proposals to integrate children's services through the development of children's trusts and the appointment of local authority directors of children's services.

We are also developing the children's national service framework (NSF), which will set new national standards for the national health service and social services. Services for disabled children will be a key part of the NSF, which will include care pathways/exemplar diagrams illustrating optimum approaches to delivering services in a number of different areas. We have already announced that autism will be used as an exemplar.

Children with autistic spectrum disorders are also benefiting from the programmes we are introducing to improve family support services for disabled children. The Quality Protects programme to improve children's social services has made disabled children a priority area. From 2001–02 to 2003–04, £60 million from the children's services special grant has been earmarked for services for disabled children and their families—£15 million in 2001–02 and 2002–03 and £30 million this year. Quality Protects management action plans show that more family support services are being provided, particularly home based respite care and sitting services.

Our White Paper, "Valuing People", directly covers every adult with autism who also has a learning disability. Implementation guidance, issued in August 2001, makes clear that adults with Asperger's Syndrome or higher functioning autism are not precluded from using learning disability services, where appropriate, and may require an assessment of their social functioning and communication skills in order to establish their level of need. By bringing together a wide range of local statutory agencies, Valuing People gives us the scope to improve opportunities and services for people across the autistic spectrum.

People with autism are benefiting from funding of over £250,000, which the Department made through the Section 64 Scheme of Grants to Voluntary Organisations between 1999–2000 and 2002–03. We are currently devoting further funds over three years to the National Autistic Society project, "Independence and Autism: Good Practice for Service Providers". This will support the development of new services to enable adults with autism or Asperger's Syndrome to live independently.

People with autism will also gain, along with others, from the investment we are making to improve standards in health and social care services. In particular, they will benefit from the NHS Plan, the mental health NSF (which covers the mental health needs of adults with autism) and fair access to care services. We will continue to review what more needs to be done for all people affected by autistic spectrum disorders.

Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people were diagnosed as being autistic in(a) 1990, (b) 2000 and (c) the latest year for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [153128]

Dr. Ladyman

Details of the number of people diagnosed with autism are not available. The Medical Research Council (MRC) published a comprehensive review of autism research in December 2001, which provides an authoritative overview of the current state of knowledge on the prevalence, incidence and causes of autism. The report was commissioned by the Department of Health. It is available on the MRC website at www.mrc.ac.uk/pdf-autism-report.pdf.

The MRC report notes that according to recent reviews, there appears fairly good agreement that autism spectrum disorders affect approximately 60, and more narrowly defined autism 10 to 30, per 10,000 children under eight. The prevalence of autism among adult populations is not known.

Bob Russell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much financial support he has given for research into autism in each of the last five years for which figures are available: and if he will make a statement. [153129]

Dr. Ladyman

The Medical Research Council (MRC), a non-departmental public body which receives its grant-in-aid from the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Technology, is the main public sector body which funds research into autism. The MRC spend on autism since 1998 is shown in the table.

£ millions
Spend on autism
1998–99 1.04
1999–2000 1.11
2000–01 1.18
2001–02 1.26
2002–03 1.30

The MRC always welcomes high quality applications for support into any aspect of human health and these are judged in open competition with other demands on funding. Awards are made according to their scientific quality and importance to human health.

In February 2002, we allocated a further £2.5 million to the MRC to help it to take forward its programme of work on autism. Between December 2002 and July 2003, the MRC held a series of four seminars to encourage the development of good quality applications for autism research funding. Topics covered in the seminars were gut and the developing child; brain and mind (neuropsychology and neuroimaging); autism in populations and outcome measures for interventions in children and adults. On 11 July 2003 the MRC held the first of their annual forums for autism research, -Breaking barriers, building bridges", in conjunction with the National Autistic Society, to bring together ideas stimulated by the previous four seminars.

The MRC will be taking decisions on the allocation of research project funding for further autism studies in early 2004.

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