Time for some positive news from the learning disability sector: last week, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust announced that it has appointed a specialist nurse with the aim of providing a better patient experience for people with learning disabilities.
The nurse, Sally Ryan, has been tasked with identifying the specific needs of patients with learning disabilities, and assisting frontline staff in delivering person-centred care. Information will also be adapted to make it easier to understand for people with learning disabilities.
Ryan, while Ipswich Hospital’s first learning disabilities liaison nurse, becomes one of an increasing number of specialist nurses being employed by NHS trusts around the country to help improve the treatment of people with learning disabilities in hospital.
This is long overdue. Mencap’s 2007 report ‘Death by Indifference’ outlined that people with learning disabilities, their families and carers often face ignorance and apathy throughout healthcare services. It further alleged that people with learning disabilities receive worse healthcare than non-disabled people.
Since then, according to the charity, the situation has not improved. In January, Mencap’s chief executive Mark Goldring said that “people with learning disabilities are still dying needlessly and facing discrimination within the health system.”
So, any appointment that helps challenge this is to be welcomed. The number of specialist learning disability nurses has dwindled in recent years with the closure of learning disability hospitals and NHS campuses. As a result, their skills are arguably needed more than ever in mainstream healthcare; as specialist facilities have gone, people with learning disabilities are increasingly being treated in general hospitals.
Often, hospital staff only have rudimentary training in learning disabilities and consequently may be unaware of specific requirements patients may have, which means that health needs can go unmet. Although it should be noted that many doctors and nurses do give great care to people with learning disabilities.
Appointments such as Ryan’s need to become a model not just for other hospitals, but for healthcare facilities in communities across the UK. Learning disability nursing posts should certainly not be cut, as is happening in some areas, according to Mencap.
Specialist knowledge can help to give patients with learning disabilities a better experience – and as a result better health and quality of life – and help to tackle the discrimination that people with learning disabilities can still sometimes face.