Helping to make Islington GP surgeries more autism friendly

Mystery shopping by Healthwatch volunteers and feedback from local residents has led to improvements in service design.
Female doctor with autistic child and his mother

Commissioners of services supporting Islington residents with special educational needs have told us that our work has increased their understanding of some of the difficulties that families with an autistic child can face accessing GP services.

As a result, a local service commissioned to provide annual health checks for autistic patients will also provide awareness training for GP practice staff, and ‘environment checks’ of GP practices by parents of children with autism and other special educational needs.

Emma Whitby, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Islington said

'It's a fantastic outcome. Some GP surgeries in the borough are already very good at supporting autistic patients, but there is still a need for staff training. We recommended that local residents with experience of autism were involved, so it's great to learn that parents will be visiting individual practices to give feedback on what works well and what could be improved in terms of the physical environment.'

How we helped commissioners to understand the difficulties autistic patients can face at the doctors

Our previous research had already demonstrated that more could be done to make general health and care services accessible to people with autism.

Following on from this, we decided to mystery shop GP practices. Healthwatch volunteers called local practices to see what reasonable adjustments they would make to meet the needs of a child with autism. Here is what we found:

  • Not many practices had staff with any specialist knowledge or training around autism.
  • There was a lack of quiet spaces for patients with autism to wait.
  • Some staff suggested sending autistic patients to a better equipped practice.
  • Most practices were happy to give patients with autism longer appointments.

Read the report