Autism: How New Technology Might Help Healthcare

In a new article on the Healthcare website, Dr Louise Morpeth, CEO at Brain in Hand, discusses new technologies for autism support & creating better access for people with autism to access healthcare – below is the introduction. To read the full article, visit their website.

We’re facing the biggest public health emergency of our generation. The NHS waiting list has reached an all-time high, amassing a backlog of 7mn people. This is affecting all corners of our health service and has cast a new light on inequalities and the role of prevention.

Health inequalities are nothing new. They have complex causes and interdependencies, and there is a lack of evidence regarding extent and trajectory. To implement effective initiatives that address health inequalities, it is essential to understand the chain of cause and effect: the underlying systemic issues that cause poor outcomes.

To take the autistic population as an example, figures show autistic people experience some of the greatest health inequalities of any demographic. They are three times more likely to experience anxiety issues and at significant risk of self-injurious behaviour, with 66% contemplating suicide and 35% reporting a suicide attempt. These figures are staggering. Yet many of these inequalities can be addressed with early intervention and support tailored to a person’s needs.

Compounding this, NHS statistics show that, as of December 2022, over 140,000 people were waiting for a clinical autism assessment – a 40% increase on the previous year – with 86% waiting longer than 13 weeks. (NICE guidance states that assessments should begin within three months of referral.)

Receiving a formal diagnosis through clinical pathways is currently the primary gateway to accessing support, but remains a significant hurdle for many. Just under three quarters (74%) of autistic people report difficulties in accessing health care; with the long waiting times for assessment, it is both unethical and potentially harmful to prevent people from receiving the support they need on the basis that they have not yet been able to access a diagnosis. There is therefore substantial value in adopting a more preventative approach and providing access to support to individuals pre-diagnosis, particularly while the system is overwhelmed.

This is not an idle point: our healthcare system is in crisis. NHS and local authorities have reached the precipice of breaking point. Adult social care vacancies increased by 52% in 2021/22 to 165,000 vacant posts, with the vacancy rate at 10.7%, and the highest number of people ever since records began in 2007 (7.2m) are currently awaiting treatment.

Clearly, it is long past time for a radical change to the way services are offered and delivered. So how can we alleviate this pressure and open up access to support for the autistic community?

To read the full article, visit their website.