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Study uncovers gaps in GPs’ autistic care

One surgery said: We’d send you to another practice

12 January, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Emma Whitby, chief executive at Healthwatch

UNDERCOVER research­ers have found “inconsistency” in the way Islington GP practices are supporting autistic patients, with some staff lacking specialist training in treating the disorder.

Healthwatch Islington investigated how practices help autistic patients after initial feedback found “more could be done” to make general health and care services more accessible.

Its report said support could involve making appointments for quieter times of the day and other simple things, such as patients not repeatedly having to explain their disorder.

Emma Whitby, chief executive at Healthwatch, an independent watchdog led by volunteers, said: “There’s definitely willingness at practices to help, but there’s not always the knowledge. It’s about awareness of the different processes and how to meet that need.”

Posing as a newly-arrived Islington resident, researchers spoke to 33 out of 35 borough practices, looking for one to accommodate a child.

One question asked was whether the practice had staff with any specialist knowledge of training around autism. Not all practices could answer but only five out of 28 said they did, while the remaining 23 said they did not.

According to Healthwatch, all practices have the ability to record a “communication need” on the system. When asked if they could log the child’s autism, 24 practices said this would be recorded as a “medical alert”, with two saying it would not be possible.

Two practices said they were not able to support patients with autism. One unnamed practice said: “We don’t have any autistic children at the practice and we would send you to another practice.”

In its findings, Healthwatch said: “There is inconsistency across the borough, in terms of how patients with autism are supported. Not many practices had staff with any specialist knowledge or training around autism.”

Rosemary Marie, 60, an Islington resident who cares for a close relative with autism, said that on the whole she had had a positive experience with practices in the borough.

“I phone up [the doctors] to ask: ‘Have you got a room that’s quiet so we do not have to wait in a room full of people?’ It’s not very nice to be in a situation where you cannot control that,” she said.

Healthwatch’s recommendations include asking Islington Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to give advice about making adjustments to practices offering less flexibility.

Ms Whitby added: “We know practices are under a lot of pressure. We were encouraged by their willingness.”

In a joint statement, Islington Council and Islington CCG, which share responsibility for autism services, said they were considering the report carefully, adding: “We will provide Healthwatch with a joint response in due course.”

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