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Minister Harris announces first ever Autism Plan for 2019

Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD today (Wednesday 5th December) has confirmed the roll-out of a new autism plan next year. Minister Harris published two reports on the prevalence of autism in Ireland and a review of the services for people with autism.

The first report: "Estimating prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the Irish Population: A review of data sources and epidemiological studies" is a research report produced by the Department of Health. This study was requested by Minister Harris to support the direction of future policy decisions and autism proof our health services. The paper describes the complexity of the changing classification of autism over many decades and developments in relation to screening and diagnostic instruments for autism. While the prevalence of autism has increased in the last twenty years, the report concludes uncertainty remains about the true prevalence of autism globally. The paper, drawing on a variety of sources, concludes that there is a robust case for estimating a prevalence rate of autism in children of 1-1.5% for the purposes of planning policy and services in Ireland. This is similar to the most recent reported prevalence rates in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, UK, Italy, USA, Canada and Australia.

The second report is entitled: "Review of the Irish Health Services for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders". The Minister asked HSE to review current services for autistic people and identify examples of good practise that can be replicated wider in the Health Service. The Working Group was chaired by Mr Tony Canavan and included an extensive public consultation process.

The review identifies key priorities for implementation by HSE including;

  • • The establishment of a Programme Board tasked with implementing the recommendations in the report,
  • • Development of a Programme of Awareness Raising and
  • • Guidance to clinicians and Service Development. 

Speaking as the two reports were published, Minister Harris said: “This was a significant priority for me upon entering office. I want to thank the Department of Health and the HSE for the substantial work they have done in this area. I have now asked the HSE to proceed with the implementation of the recommendations in the report. This commitment will be reflected in the HSE National Service Plan for 2019 and will form part of an overall Autism Plan to be published next year. I know that the HSE are putting a lot of effort and planning into the improvement of Autism services and they have my full support in this. I am particularly pleased that autistic people will have direct input into the implementation of the recommendations of the HSE Review Report. Additionally, I also welcome the establishment of an implementation programme Board and Public Awareness Campaign relating to Autism.”

Minister Harris further added: “Improving services includes increasing knowledge and changing attitudes from how we autism-proof our health services to the language we use to discuss autism. As we see a generation of young people age out of our school system and into adulthood, and as more and more adults seek to access diagnosis we must ensure our adult services become truly inclusive, accessible and equitable. The importance of Early Intervention and continued access to necessary therapy and assessments is well documented and it is a priority for me and for the HSE to improve these services across the board for these children and for all children with additional health needs. We must also strive to improve the knowledge of healthcare professionals through the lifecycle of support and plan our services in this light. The provision of an additional 100 therapy posts secured for Children’s Disability Services for which recruitment will commence in 2019, will increase the capacity of the HSE in meeting children’s needs both in relation to Autism assessments and subsequent service provision. Additionally, significant and further progress will be made in the co-ordination of existing children and young people disability services through the roll out of Children’s Disability Networks under the Progressing Disability Services policy."

The reports are available on the Department of Health website.