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GP practices to trial health checks for autistic adults

by Jess Hacker
21 July 2021

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NHS England will begin trialling a primary care health check for autistic adults later this year, the Government has announced.

In its new five-year national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults (published 21 July), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced NHSE would begin trialling a Newcastle University project to identify autistic patients’ needs earlier.

The study – which is sponsored by Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and is being trialled in the North East – is aiming to recruit 40 practices to involve 200 autistic adults, with the trial expected to launch later in the summer.

The researchers flagged that autistic people are also at increased risk of premature mortality, with common co-occurring conditions such as ADHD,cerebral palsy, poor mental health, and sensory sensitivities.

Their initial research suggested that 80% of autistic people thought a primary care check for autistic adults is needed.

They reported that ‘many autistic people have said that they find accessing and engaging with healthcare services difficult as these services do not provide the adaptions needed’.

It comes after NHS Long Term Plan set out an objective to ensure autistic patients receive timely and appropriate health checks, with improved awareness among NHS staff.

The trial

GP practices taking part in the trial will be randomly allocated to one of two groups: those providing services as usual, and those providing the Autism Health Check.

Patients in the latter group will be invited to attend a health check by their GP practice, which should take place on-site and will be carried out by a relevant health professional.

Eligible patients will need to complete a pre-appointment questionnaire before their health check, providing information about their sensory and communication needs, any reasonable adjustments needed and their general health and wellbeing.

Patients who take part will be asked to complete similar questionnaires every three months for nine months.

The researchers said: ‘This will allow us to make comparisons because we do not know whether the Autism Health Check is an acceptable treatment that could be delivered within the NHS.’

Improving patient records

The DHSC said NHSE are also developing ‘digital flags’ in patient records to signify to healthcare professionals that they should tailor their support accordingly for an autistic patient, which was also in the Long-Term Plan

It said: ‘We know that autistic people often need adjustments to their healthcare for this to meet their needs, but that currently professionals cannot always identify that people are autistic or the adjustments they may require.’

It added that NHSE will work with 12 early adopter sites to test the system this year.

From last month, people who have a diagnosis of autism without a learning disability became eligible for a review under the Learning Disability Mortality Review programme (LeDeR) for the first time.


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