Up to 2.8 million health and social care staff, from consultants to porters, who regularly have contact with patients or service users could be legally required to undertake special learning disability or autism training, under new Government proposals, welcomed by campaigners
The plans will help address the stark difference in life expectancy between those with a learning disability and those without. Currently, the life expectancy of women with a learning disability is 18 years lower than those without, with a 14-year gap for men. Autistic people also face documented barriers to accessing healthcare.
"This new mandatory autism training for all health and care staff in England could improve the health or even save the lives of hundreds of thousands of autistic people".
All relevant staff, from receptionists to doctors or care workers could receive a level of training to provide:
• An understanding of learning disability and autism and the impact they have on someone's life, including challenging unconscious attitudes which can lead to a failure to spot key symptoms, and ensuring individuals, their carers or families are listened to.
• Knowledge of the fundamental rights of people with a learning disability or autistic people, and how these can be translated into action, for example the need to provide information in an accessible format and make sure people’s views and concerns are heard.
• Advice on how to make practical reasonable adjustments to improve how people with a learning disability and autistic people, of all ages, are supported.
The proposals would see autistic people and those with a learning disability involved in the training, to help challenge attitudes and unconscious bias. Clinicians often only see autistic people or people with a learning disability when they are unwell or anxious due to their environment and training can provide a safe and relaxed space for professionals to get to know someone and understand how they can make reasonable adjustments to their care.
As part of an eight-week consultation on the training, published today, the Government is seeking the views of health and social care staff, employers, charities and people with a learning disability or on the autism spectrum, as well as their families and carers.
The Government is exploring routes to make the training a legal requirement, and expect that it would become part of health and care workers’ education and training, either before qualification, or in the role if already qualified.
Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said:
“It’s simply unacceptable that the lives of autistic people or those with a learning disability are being cut short in part because of barriers in accessing healthcare that most of us take for granted.
“Our plans to introduce mandatory training for all relevant health and care staff will help them to ensure more people receive the safe, compassionate and informed care that they are entitled to.”
Dame Cheryl Gillan, MP said:
“As chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, I welcome this initiative as it is an ambition that all public facing staff will understand and be able to help people with a learning disability or, in particular, autism. I would encourage people to contribute to this excellent consultation.”
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Response by Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society:
“This new mandatory autism training for all health and care staff in England could improve the health or even save the lives of hundreds of thousands of autistic people.
"Too often doctors, nurses and other professionals don’t understand how autistic people communicate or how bright lights or noisy places can stop people getting the care they need. As a result people sometimes don’t get health treatments they desperately need or get the wrong treatments or support .
"This public consultation is an important step towards ending the health inequalities autistic people face, finally living up to the duties of the Autism Act. It is the result of tireless efforts by campaigners like Paula McGowan, whose autistic son tragically died in hospital in 2016.. We pay tribute to her campaign for mandatory training.
"The training will only work if it's shaped by the experiences of autistic people and their families, so we're pleased that the Government is consulting. We encourage as many autistic people and families to respond as possible. We encourage anyone interested in finding out more about autism, and what it can actually be like to be autistic, to visit autism.org.uk."