The National Health Service (NHS) has partnered with a group of autism organizations to create sensory-friendly GP surgeries, aimed at supporting patients with autism. The initiative has been launched in response to the growing demand for healthcare services that are tailored to the needs of individuals with autism.
During World Autism Acceptance Week, which takes place from 27 March – 2 April, and helps to raise awareness of autism, to educate and improve autism understanding and aims to make the world a friendlier place for autistic people and their loved ones. There are more than 700,000 autistic people living in the UK.
NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire Integrated Care Board (ICB) has introduced a project to look at how GP surgeries can ensure they are more receptive to the sensory needs of autistic people, as well as helping to raise awareness of autism and what reasonable adjustments staff can make to support improving health outcomes of autistic people. Reasonable adjustments that can be made include noise reduction, quiet waiting areas, modulated lighting, decluttering and clear signage around the surgery.
The ICB developed an approach to work with practices and autistic people, to assess physical environments and make recommendations. To date, 24 practices across Herefordshire and Worcestershire have been visited and assessed by people with a lived experience of autism and the findings of these reviewed by an occupational therapist and advanced practitioner in sensory integration. Reports are then sent to the practice and so far, more than half of these have made reasonable adjustments.
The project has also been introduced at the Emergency Department of Hereford County Hospital, and the ICB aims to extend the project to all 79 practices during 2023/24 and the emergency departments at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
Laura, one of the autistic people visiting the practices said: “I am very proud to be involved in this important project to help make GP surgeries more welcoming to autistic people. As a person with autism, I understand the challenges they face when trying to make appointments, and the anxiety of going to a GP surgery. Our team have visited 18 surgeries in Worcestershire in the last year and we are very pleased with how receptive they have been to the small changes we have suggested. Hopefully autistic people will now find a more welcoming environment when visiting the doctor.”
Richard Keble, Programme Director for Mental Health, Learning Disability and Autism for NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire said: “The aim of the programme is to support GP practices to make reasonable adjustments so that autistic people can access local health services more easily. The programme has been extensively co-produced with people with a lived experience of autism. We are working collaboratively with primary care to ensure residents in our communities are supported.”