‘Although awareness of autism has increased in recent years, there are still considerable gaps in health and social care provision in the UK and elsewhere in the world’, explains Dr Silvana Unigwe, general practitioner and The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)’s Clinical Support Fellow for Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition and affects approximately one in a hundred people. A recent study from Sweden reported that people with autism had markedly increased premature mortality from a variety of causes, compared to the general population.
The RCGP has made autistic spectrum disorders a clinical priority for the years 2014 to 2017. Together with a range of stakeholders, including the National Autistic Society, Research Autism and Autism Alliance, we are working towards enhancing autism awareness within the primary care workforce and improving the healthcare experiences of people on the autistic spectrum.
With the support of the Department of Health, in May 2016, every GP practice in England was sent a resource pack to support GPs and their teams in their efforts to make their surgeries more autism friendly.
The pack included the RCGP Autism Patient Charter along with supporting resources, such as tips for GPs and patients with autism on making the most of their consultations, and advice on reasonable adjustments such as longer appointments and quiet waiting areas. The pack can be downloaded here.
Funding from the Department of Health has also allowed us to hold autism awareness workshops for primary healthcare professionals in regional faculties.
Feedback from the events was positive and encouraging. The delegates greatly valued the talks given by autism self-advocates on the benefits of diagnosis. They were also able to gain more clarity about local referral pathways and support services, which can sometimes be confusing. One delegate commented:
This was the first properly focused course towards understanding and managing issues relating to autism.
Finally, in the past two weeks we have launched the RCGP ASD online toolkit which can be accessed here. It is a user-friendly compilation of resources not only for clinicians but for patients, carers, commissioners, and anyone with an interest in autism.
There is still some way to go. Certain areas of the country have very limited support structures for children and adults with autism. However, the tide seems to be gradually turning.
Our hope is that we will be able to reach out to more people, deliver more training and awareness days, and encourage our clinical commissioning groups to ensure adequate provision for people with autism, wherever they live in the UK.