The needs of people with learning disabilities in prison may be better met with professional assessment and treatment in a specialist facility that provides services for patients with complex difficulties, including autism or Asperger’s syndrome, an expert has claimed.

Speaking at the recent Care Pathways 2011 conference in London, Dr Claire Royston, medical director of Care Principles, a provider of services for people with learning disabilities, mental health disorders and related conditions, said that adopting an outcome-based approach in the treatment of adults with learning disabilities will provide more benefits to patients, commissioners and society. There are currently about 80,000 people in prison, of which nearly 6,000 have a learning disability.

“It’s important to separate patients for treatment from prisoners for punishment,” Dr Royston said. “Assessment is the first step and following this, the formulation of an outcomes-based, individually tailored care programme. Those with a learning disability are more vulnerable and at greater risk in prison. Transferring them to units where there are specialists who can provide appropriate care is essential.” She highlighted how people with learning disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied and victimised in prison. They are also five times more likely to be physically restrained and three times more likely to be segregated. “Society will benefit from the proper treatment of these offenders in specialist facilities as the result will be a lower rate of re-offending. The prison environment does not provide them with the treatment approaches they require.”

Dr Royston believes that an outcome-based approach in a specialist facility enables the constantly changing needs of patients to be better catered for. It is in line with the Valuing People Now strategy, which focuses on the rights, choice, independence and inclusion of people with learning disabilities. Not only has this approach been proven to improve engagement with patients, it also benefits members of staff by better matching their skills with individual patient needs and allows for funding to be used more efficiently.