The Government has published guidance on the support autistic people who are unwell with COVID-19 in inpatient care should be able to get.
We have outlined the key points that affect support for autistic children and adults in inpatient care, for example in a mental health hospital, who have one of the following:
- any symptoms of COVID-19
- a confirmed case of COVID-19
- an underlying health condition which makes them part of the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group – also known as the ‘shielding’ group.
What has changed?
Testing: If an autistic person is suspected to have COVID-19 , they should be tested straight away and health professionals should keep the person under regular observation to make sure their symptoms don’t get worse.
Shielding: If you or the autistic person you support is also part of the ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’, or ‘shielding’ group, they should be prioritised for an ensuite room. This is to protect them from the virus. Hospitals should reorganise their layout and staff to make sure extremely vulnerable people are protected. If an ensuite room isn’t available, people should be put in a side bay/ward as quickly as they can to reduce the risk of getting coronavirus, or if they have the virus, of passing it on.
People who have COVID-19 will have to self-isolate as much as possible in inpatient care to stop the virus from spreading.
What if I or the person I support gets coronavirus and becomes really unwell?
- If this happens, you or the person you support may be transferred to acute care in a hospital. Staff in the hospital and the commissioners should work together and follow their regular guidelines on transferring patients from inpatient care. They should explain what is happening and help you or the person you support to prepare for it.
- Health professionals caring for the person you support must continue to avoid restrictive practices where at all possible. You or the person you support might find it helpful to use ourHealth Passport, which helps autistic people communicate their needs to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
- If important decisions need to be made, they should be discussed with you, or the person you support directly as well as family members or carers. All the relevant information should be accessible, so everyone understands what’s happening.
How should mental health hospitals stop the coronavirus from spreading?
- If someone has symptoms or a confirmed case of COVID-19, they need to self-isolate and get tested immediately.
- If an autistic person has symptoms or a confirmed case of the virus, staff in the service should draw up a management and isolation plan for that person. This should take into account things that might be difficult for an autistic person, for example if a staff member wears personal protective equipment (PPE), which could be frightening.
- You have to be told if another person on the ward has been confirmed with COVID-19. Staff should also tell you if any changes have been made to the way they care for you or the person you support because they’re trying to stop the virus from spreading.
- Autistic people might find it difficult to understand social distancing rules, especially in an environment like a mental health hospital. If you, or the person you support, do struggle, staff in the service must carry out case-by-case reviews, using legal guidance about how to support individuals.
Can autistic people in inpatient care have visitors?
There may be times where it is not safe to visit an autistic person in inpatient care, for example if someone has COVID-19. On 18 May 2020, the NHS confirmed that there should not be blanket restrictions on people in England being able to visit autistic children and young people in inpatient care. The hospital should look at this on a case-by-case basis.
What to do if you’re worried about inpatient care
We run a casework service, which gives advice and information to autistic people and families and friends who support autistic people in inpatient care. If you’re worried about an autistic person you support, find out more about how our service might be able to help.
Share your story
During the coronavirus outbreak, we want to continue raising issues we hear about from autistic people and their families so we can make sure the Government puts the right support in place. If you would like to share your story with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.