hospitalLearning disability charity Mencap is calling for greater learning disability training for all hospital staff to put an end to the discrimination that people can face and which leads to an estimated 1,200 people dying each year unnecessarily.

As part of Mencap’s ‘Hear my voice’ general election campaign, the charity is calling for greater learning disability training for all hospital staff and for learning disability liaison nurses to be put in place in all hospitals. This would ensure people with a learning disability get the support they need from the professionals involved in their care.

Currently, learning disability liaison nursing provision is patchy. Freedom of Information Requests sent to 165 NHS Acute Hospitals by Mencap revealed that 42% do not have a learning disability liaison nurse, and only 49% of trusts have one working full-time. 

In addition, on average, each Trust only has 30 hours of learning disability nursing cover per week and not one has learning disability liaison nurse cover for 24-hours a day.

This lack of learning disability training and awareness amongst hospital staff can contribute to very poor health care for patients. Indeed, 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably in the NHS every year; and women with a learning disability die on average 20 years earlier, and men 13 years earlier, than the general population, according to the Confidential Inquiry into the premature deaths of people with learning disabilities.

Further to this, in a letter published in The Independent on Sunday on November 2, families who have lost loved ones with a learning disability, concerned health professionals and leading health organisations – including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association – expressed their dismay at the loss of thousands of lives each year and the continued inaction from successive governments.

When told about the discrimination and poor care that people with a learning disability receive in the NHS, 60% of 2,062 British adults surveyed by Populus said this made them less proud of the NHS. This is paired with a belief that people with a learning disability should have the same access as anyone else when it comes to healthcare.

Tackling unacceptable inequalities

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: “With winter fast approaching, we must ask the government how it plans to care for the most vulnerable individuals in our society during this time. In recent years, the NHS has struggled to cope with the pressures that winter brings, so we fear what this will mean for people with a learning disability and the quality of care they receive in the NHS.

“In order to tackle the unacceptable inequalities that people with a learning disability face in the NHS, greater learning disability training and awareness is fundamental. Hospital staff must no longer write-off someone’s illness as a consequence of their disability and they must start listening to what families have to say. People with a learning disability are losing their lives as a result of inaction. When is this ever acceptable?

“What’s more, we know that the right training and awareness is critical. Where professionals such as learning disability liaison nurses are in post, they have made a really positive difference to the experiences and health outcomes of people with a learning disability.

“The Government must take action to ensure that people with a learning disability get the high quality healthcare they need and put an end to this scandal of avoidable deaths. No more excuses - people with a learning disability and their families deserve better.”