Autism signA Sheffield Hallam University lecturer is helping to pioneer a transformation of services to support thousands of adults with autism in the city - which could provide a blueprint for 40 NHS Trusts nationwide to follow suit. 

John Kay, who himself has Asperger's Syndrome, has helped to secure £500,000 worth of funding to allow adults in Sheffield to have access to diagnostic support for Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC).

Previously, the 'out-of-area' referral policy followed by the Sheffield Primary Care Trust, meant adults living in the city could not access its Asperger's Syndrome Service for autism alone and would only qualify for diagnosis and support if they had additional mental health conditions. 

Nationally, 1 in 100 people have autism which equates to around 6,500 people in Sheffield who may not have been able to access support services in their home town.

Following a letter campaign to local MPs, John, who is the lead governor of the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC), helped the Trust to secure the funding from Sheffield City Council and the local Clinical Commissioning Group after identifying a need for service provision for autistic adults living in the city. 

Kay said: "I used the Sheffield Asperger's service following my diagnosis and was able to do so because I lived out of the area in Chesterfield. When I subsequently became a governor of the SHSC Trust, I was made aware of many cases in Sheffield where access to the service had been denied and that prompted me to do something about it.

"Autism is a disability that can have a long-term and severe impact on an individual to be able to function in society but it is not an acute mental health problem as long as support services are put in place. I found patients would often find themselves on a carousel of referral programmes with social workers, charities and other, non-clinical networks and would only receive treatment and support once their condition became critical or there was a threat to life. 

"Now, thanks to the support of MPs and our partners in the NHS we have appointed a team of clinical specialists to help provide a service that can assess, diagnose, treat and support all adults with ASC and we've already had our first referrals accessing the support."

Andy Bragg, assistant service director at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust, said: "The new service will also work with other health and social care teams, employers, and education providers to help ensure the needs of people with Autism are understood, enabling them to access mainstream services.”