A project improving mental health support for adults with autism has won a regional award.

Autism Expert by Experience is led by South Tyneside Lifecycle Mental Health Service, part of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

The work has won the team the Innovation and Improvement in Reducing Healthcare Inequalities title in the Bright Ideas in Health Awards (BIHA).

Clinical Lead for Mental Health, Emma Leanne Lee collected the award on behalf of her team.

The project aims to improve mental healthcare for people with autism.

It supports work aimed at helping people as they become adults. It also looks to reduce the amount of patients who need to go into to hospital and reduce mental health crises.

It follows research by MIND and the National Autistic Society. This revealed 94% of adults with autism have experienced anxiety.

Emma worked with Sunderland-based support service Autism in Mind.

It also involved autism expert Matthew Rutherford, who put services to the test by following the journey patients would take through healthcare.

Together, they reviewed services offered by the Trust.

They looked at where improvements could be made if they needed treatment.

One of these has been to support people to have their say. This helps them explain their needs and they can ask for anything which would help them.

As well as empowering adults with autism, staff training is improving assessment skills.

Emma said: “Dispelling some of the myths about mental health services, while also making necessary improvements, is our goal with this project.

“We want to avoid someone ringing up and feeling as though this isn’t the right service for them. In reality we could really help them.

“I’m honoured to have been nominated for a Bright Ideas in Health Award. To go on and win our category has been fantastic.”

Emma hopes to see the process rolled out to other health services in South Tyneside.

The BIHA is run by the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC).

The awards were set up in 2004 to celebrate innovation in healthcare across the region.

The category the team won focuses on the most deprived communities. It also looks work to help the most at-risk health groups.

The most successful entries drive improvement in access, experience and outcomes.

Mark Taylor, the Trust’s Head of Innovation, said: “Innovation drives change and improvements for our patients and colleagues too.

“The best solutions most often come from those who use their own experience to come up a way to solve an issue.

“Ultimately, this makes things better for those we care for and our teams.

“The project by the Lifecycle service shows just how that can work in practice.

“By teaming up with other experts, they have helped drive improvements. These will make a difference for scores of our patients.

“They should rightly be proud of what’s gone into this project and the recognition it has brought.”