The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has launched a quality standard for autism that aims to help services to address the current variation in diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
NICE’s quality standard, which is for children, young people and adults with autism, contains 8 measurable statements that together, it is hoped, can improve the quality and consistency of care for people with the condition.
The statements include recommending that people with possible autism who are referred to an autism team for a diagnostic assessment have the assessment started within 3 months of referral.
In addition, NICE calls for people having a diagnostic assessment for autism to be also assessed for coexisting physical health conditions and mental health problems. This is because people with autism often have symptoms or aspects of other conditions that, if unrecognised or untreated, can have a significant impact on their lives and their families and carers. Conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety and motor coordination problems.
As autism is a spectrum condition, and the needs of people with it are varied, another statement calls for people with autism to have a personalised plan that is developed and implemented in a partnership between them, their family and carers if appropriate, and the autism team.
The standard also calls for people with autism to be offered a named key worker to coordinate the care and support detailed in their personalised plan to help ensure that those with autism receive an integrated package of care.
Furthermore, the standard recommends that people with autism should not be prescribed medication to address the condition. This is because drug treatments have been shown to be ineffective in addressing the core features of autism and carry significant potential risks.
Jonathan Green, Professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, and member of the quality standard committee, said: “Across England, there is real variation in the type and quality of care people with autism receive, which can have lasting effects on both the person and their families and carers.
“It is important, therefore, that there are clear standards in place - based on the best available evidence and expert consensus - which specifically focus on key areas needing improvement.
“These will aid health and social care professionals and commissioning bodies to deliver the very best for people with autism.”
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: “People with autism can find everyday life challenging and confusing, and often have symptoms or aspects of other conditions that go undiagnosed.
“This quality standard outlines how to deliver the very best care and support for both adults and children with the condition.”