Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Mental health and neurodiversity officer set to ‘transform’ NHS services

For the first time ever, NHS England has appointed a medical director for mental health and neurodiversity who will transform services for autistic people, people with a learning disability and those with mental health needs.

Dr Adrian James was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 2020 – 2023 and is currently a board member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, a member of the NHS Assembly and was the first medical director of Devon Partnership NHS Trust.

During the pandemic, Dr James led the collation of evidence regarding the risks of Covid-19 for those with serious mental illness or a learning disability, leading to these groups being prioritised for a Covid-19 vaccine.

He said: “I am delighted to be joining the leadership team at NHS England. Much has been achieved in the world of mental health and neurodiversity and I am looking forward to working with the medical directorate, Claire Murdoch and her team, patients, the public, staff and the vibrant charity sector to further improve outcomes, the experience of care and timely access to services.”

Mental health charity ‘pleased to see’ neurodiversity being prioritised

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has welcomed Mr James’s appointment, describing it as a ‘landmark moment’ for people with neurodiversity and mental health needs.

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the RCP said: “This is the first time we have had a national medical director for mental health and neurodiversity, something our physical health colleagues have had for years. It is a landmark moment in the journey towards achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health and it’s brilliant to see Adrian take up this richly deserved appointment, I can’t think of anyone better suited for this role.

“There has been an unprecedented increase in demand for mental health care in recent years, particularly from children and young people. The impact on individuals and their families, the health service, and the economy have been enormous. Adrian’s appointment shows that the NHS recognise how important mental healthcare is to the health and wealth of the nation. This is an important opportunity to ensure the lives of those with mental illness and neurodevelopmental conditions are prioritised within the NHS.”

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said he is pleased to see mental health and neurodiversity being prioritised by NHS England.

He said: “We know from our work that neurodiverse people can experience mental health challenges when accessing systems not designed with them in mind.

“Dr Adrian James brings a wealth of experience to the role, most recently from his presidency of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, during which he spearheaded important work on funding, workforce, parity of esteem, and improving outcomes for groups such as Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. We look forward to working with Dr James and his team to improve treatment and care for people severely affected by mental illness.”

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