The General Medical Council (GMC) poll last week, which found that people with learning disabilities still experience discrimination in the healthcare system, came as little surprise. While there are moves to address this, more is needed if equality is to be achieved.
In recent years there have been several reports on discrimination against people with learning disabilities within the healthcare system – Mencap’s 2007 report ‘Death by indifference’ and 2012 follow-up ’74 lives and counting’ spring to mind – which have outlined the problems many face.
The GMC’s poll adds to this evidence base, but is significant as it gauged the opinion of doctors themselves. The survey of more than 400 doctors revealed that many feel that they lack the resources or appropriate training to deliver equal healthcare to people with a learning disability.
To help address this, the GMC has launched online resources that focus on key issues around treating people with a learning disability, discrimination and working with carers. It also outlines the GMC’s guidance and shows how it can be put into practice.
This is to be welcomed, and will help – often small changes in practice can make a big difference – but it will not solve the problem. If people with learning disabilities are to achieve equality of healthcare more needs to be done.
Perhaps the time has come for more training in learning disabilities to be standard for healthcare professionals. With the number of people with learning disabilities growing, as well as the prevalence of adults with complex healthcare and support needs, doctors will treat increasing numbers in the years to come, so it seems obvious that increased training in the issues specific to it would be helpful.
For instance, it can be more difficult for doctors to assess what a person with learning disabilities’ symptoms are than for the general population, especially those with communication difficulties.
Receiving good quality healthcare is crucial for many people with learning disabilities. Doctors – and nurses and other healthcare professionals such as dentists and opticians – need to be able to effectively treat the person and their symptoms and give equal healthcare.
While this may add to the volume of training doctors have to do, and could cost money to put into place, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
However, until this happens, equality of healthcare for people with learning disabilities will remain a dream.