The Government has made a number of changes to how we access health services in order to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

We have highlighted the most important changes that affect autistic people and their families below and will keep this page updated with the latest information. 

Can I still get non-coronavirus related healthcare?

During the coronavirus outbreak, it’s still really important that you get treatment you need from the NHS if you’re feeling unwell or have hurt yourself. The NHS is publishing information about how to get support at the moment, which you can find here.

We’ve also pulled together other information about NHS support that has changed because of the outbreak:

Scheduled operations: in early March, the NHS said that non-urgent operations are being cancelled as of 15 April 2020 for three months. The NHS is doing this to help free up space for people who have coronavirus. Emergency operations and cancer operations will still go ahead.

Update (27 April): scheduled operations and mental health services will be starting up again, but this will be decided on an individual basis. It’s best to look at your local service to see what they’re doing.

Visiting your GP: the NHS has put in place measures so that people who need to access healthcare during coronavirus can do so, if possible from home. If you need support, advice or to order prescriptions, you should be able to access this online or over the phone. It may take a bit longer than usual because the NHS is under pressure.

It’s important that, in line with the Equality Act and the Accessible Information Standard, healthcare professionals make sure they’re providing you with different ways to get in touch with, and receive support from, them. For more information on seeing your GP, visit the NHS website.

If you need to see healthcare professionals during the coronavirus outbreak – whether that’s seeing a GP or needing support in hospital , you might find our Health Passport useful. It’s designed to help autistic people tell healthcare professionals about the kind of support they might need, especially when they’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

Can I visit an autistic person while they’re in hospital?

During the coronavirus outbreak, people will generally not be allowed to visit family or friends in hospital, but there are some exceptions.

Visitors will be allowed if they are supporting an autistic person who is in hospital if they really need it. Only one visitor, either a close family member or an unpaid carer, will be allowed. They will need to speak to the ward or department before they visit to make sure it’s safe. Given the current outbreak, there still may be times when visitors won’t be able to see the autistic person they support.

You can read NHS England’s new guidance for people on visiting others while they’re in hospital (published 8 April).

Your rights to support

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard concerning reports of GPs telling autistic people and their families that they are unlikely to be prioritised for ventilation if they get COVID-19. We’ve also heard of GPs writing to people suggesting they should sign Do Not Resuscitate orders because of guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). We have raised concerns with the Government and they have confirmed that professionals should not be making blanket assessments about people’s treatment:

  • Some doctors were making assessments about who should be prioritised for ventilation based on guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which we were worried was leading doctors to make decisions that would stop autistic people from getting the right treatment. The reassuring news is that NICE has now clarified its guidance to say doctors should be making decisions on a case-by-case basis.
  • We also heard some cases of GPs asking autistic people and their families to sign Do Not Attempt CPR orders (also known as DNACPR). Again, this related to the guidance from NICE, and caused lots of autistic people understandable concern. The guidance was updated, and the NHS sent a letter to all GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and NHS Trusts to say they should not be putting in place blanket policies based on someone’s diagnosis. They confirmed that decisions about resuscitation should be made on an individual basis. 

What does the National Autistic Society think about these changes?

We want to make sure that autistic people continue to get the healthcare they need during the coronavirus outbreak, and that they have the right treatment if they get COVID-19. We raised concerns with the Government about the NICE guidance and it’s good to see this has now changed.

We will continue to raise any issues we hear about from autistic people and their families during this difficult time. If you would like to share your story with us, please email stories@nas.org.uk.