NASMental health workers should have a better understanding of autism and the adjustments they can make for autistic people to enhance the service they provide, according to the National Autistic Society (NAS).

The NAS made this call as a report by spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) said the Department of Health and NHS England are starting to make progress with the actions needed to implement access and waiting time standards for people with mental health conditions, but much remains to be done.

But the NAO added that the full cost of implementing the new access and waiting time standards and meeting longer-term ambitions for better services is not well understood and meeting them will be a very significant challenge. It added that the Department of Health and NHS England are making progress, particularly in setting priorities and national leadership, but significant risks to implementing the access and waiting times programme remain.

But the NAS believe that autism should be given more priority in enhancing mental health services, to ensure people with the condition can get the support they need.

Tim Nicholls, policy manager at the NAS, said: “Autism is not a mental illness but many autistic people do struggle with mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, at some point in their lives. It’s vital that, if this happens, they can access timely support from professionals who understand autism and can adapt treatment to meet their needs. 

“The National Audit Office (NAO) rightly highlights the work that the Government and NHS England still need to do, particularly to make sure “there are enough staff with the right skills in the right locations”. Our charity believes these skills should include understanding autism and the different ways it can affect people. For example, some autistic people find it so difficult to communicate verbally that conventional talking therapies just won’t work.

“The government and NHS England must act on the NAO’s findings and make sure that all mental health staff understand autism and the adjustments they can make for autistic people. Without this, the system simply won't work for autistic people, which is unacceptable.”