Learning disability and autism: our work

We work with the Government and other health and care organisations to make sure that people with a learning disability, autism or both who display behaviour that challenges, including people with a mental health condition get the best possible care.

This work is called ‘Transforming Care’ and is all about improving health and care services so that more people can live in the community, with the right support, and close to home.

In October 2015 we published our national plan – Building the Right Support , which is also available in easy read which sets out how we are making sure that people are getting the right care, in the right place at the right time.

Since that report was published we have made a lot of progress but we know there is a lot more still to do.

Listening to, and learning from, people’s experiences is an important part of our work. In February 2019, NHS England and Pathways Associates published a document called Beyond The High Fence, which was co-produced with people with a learning disability and autistic people who are, or have been, in hospital.

This piece of work was led by Gavin Harding MBE, a learning disability adviser for NHS England, who has personal experience of being in hospital himself. It is written for specialist commissioners, clinical commissioning groups, local authorities and anyone working in the criminal justice system. People share their lived experience and offer their views on what more needs to happen to improve quality of care and support people to make a successful return to their communities.

How is care being transformed?

Our work includes lots of different projects which are helping to improve the lives of people with a learning disability, autism or both.

Find out more about the ways how we are transforming care and improving health across the country and in your local area.

Who makes decisions on the transforming care programme?

The work of the programme across the health and social care system is managed by the Transforming Care Delivery Board (TCDB) which includes people from each of the six partner organisations leading the transforming care programme nationally.  They are:

  • NHS England
  • The Association of Directors of Social Services
  • The Care Quality Commission
  • The Department of Health
  • Health Education England
  • The Local Government Association (LGA)

Minutes of the Transforming Care Delivery Board are available on request – please email england.learning.disability@nhs.net.

Improving outcomes in all-age autism assessment pathways

Demand for autism assessments has risen rapidly over the past 20 years. In July 2022, there were more than 125,000 people waiting for assessment by mental health services; an increase of 34% from October 2021.

The NHS Long Term Plan (2019) set an ambition to reduce waiting times in autism assessment services. The national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026 set a target to reduce autism assessment wait times for people of all ages as well as improving access to support during and after an assessment.

It is critical that efforts to achieve these ambitions does not result in quality of autism assessments and access to assessment services being compromised. For this reason, guidance was needed to guide decision making about high quality and accessible autism assessment services.

We recognise that recruitment and retention of an appropriately resourced, qualified and skilled multidisciplinary workforce will be central to achieving these improved outcomes. These publications provide guidance on delivering improved outcomes within the context of currently available resources.

NHS England have produced a national framework to deliver improved outcomes in all-age autism assessment pathways that sets out general principles to be applied during the commissioning cycle for an autism assessment offer in each area of the country.

NHS England have also produced operational guidance to deliver improved outcomes that places these general principles in operational context in terms of how they can be applied in each area. This guidance is intended to support local strategic decision making to deliver the highest quality autism assessment services.

Both documents have been created with input from clinical, lived experience, scientific, commissioning and service management experts. Both documents incorporate relevant, evidence-based recommendations from NICE clinical guidelines.

Joint guiding principles for integrated care systems – learning disability and autism

The development of integrated care systems has meant more of a focus than ever before on the importance of strong partnership working across health and local government. When organisations and teams work together, and when people and families receive support in a joined-up way, we know that people experience better outcomes.

To help improve the lives and outcomes of people with a learning disability and autistic people, the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services as Partners in Care and Health, in partnership with NHS England, have developed a set of guiding principles for integrated care systems and their local partners.

We hope that these principles encourage a partnership approach, across health, local government, and wider partners, within local systems, and promote better outcomes for the people that we all serve.

Learning Disability and Autism Programme: Data and information

The NHS Long Term Plan works to improve the health of people with a learning disability, people who are autistic or both, and to support them to live well at home. This publication brings together key data from health services to show the performance of the NHS in delivering our Long Term Plan commitments.

View the Learning Disability and Autism Programme: Data and information