A trial of learning disability and autism training has had a positive impact on health and care staff’s knowledge, skills and confidence, a study has found.

The evaluation of the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism marks an important step forward in the programme’s development.

In 2019 the government committed to develop and test a standardised training package on learning disability and autism, which is being co-ordinated by Health Education England (HEE) and Skills for Care. Over the last two years, the training has been trialled in different ways, and was delivered with a range of trial partners to more than 8,300 health and care staff across England.

The training is named after Oliver McGowan, who died in 2016 after being given antipsychotic drugs by hospital staff. Oliver’s mother Paula successfully launched a campaign to make training on caring for people with a learning disability and autistic people mandatory for all health and care staff.

The Health and Care Act 2022 has since included a new requirement for Care Quality Commission-registered service providers to ensure their employees receive learning disability and autism training appropriate to their role.

Positive impact on understanding of learning disability and autism

The evaluation found the training led to an increase in knowledge, skills and confidence among staff in working and communicating with autistic people and people with a learning disability. The training’s quality also rated highly across a range of areas.  

The report also showed the training had a positive impact on participants’ awareness and understanding of learning disability and autism, ranging from information to support making reasonable adjustments to challenging their preconceptions – with several saying it gave them confidence to challenge poor practice.

The training has been co-designed and co-delivered by people with a learning disability, autistic people, family carers and subject matter experts – and their involvement was highlighted as having a major impact on participants. Feedback included praise for the trainers’ passion and insight into learning disability and autism, which made the sessions authentic and powerful.

Paula McGowan, who was presented with an OBE by HRH The Duke of Cambridge earlier this month, said: “I am overwhelmed by the outstanding feedback that the evaluation has given us today. The standout comments for me were staff saying that they would change their practises going forward, to hear staff reflect on how they felt empowered to advocate better for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

“Oliver’s training has been co-designed, delivered, and evaluated alongside people with learning disabilities, autistic people, and those with lived experience. Their voices have been heard every step of the way.

“Together we are beginning to change culture, hearts, and minds. There is a lot more work to be done, but that journey has now begun. Oliver would be so very proud.”

HEE, Skills for Care and the Department of Health and Social Care selected British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Mencap Society/National Autistic Society to design and develop the programme. The evaluation was carried out by the National Development Team for Inclusion.