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Nurses and other healthcare professionals like those in Allied Health jobs, A&E roles and the full spread of Doctors jobs say they want more training to better meet the needs of people with a learning disability.

Evidence suggests a lack of such training could be a contributing to 1,200 avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability every year, prompting learning disability charity Mencap to unveil its “Treat me well” campaign which aims to ensure that no health professional can set foot in a hospital without having had learning disability training.

Healthcare failing people with learning disabilities

In a survey of NHS staff, 59% acknowledged learning disability does not receive enough attention and 66% want better training. Despite it being a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010, findings by YouGov and Freedom of Information Requests to NHS Trusts show that healthcare professionals and hospitals have been failing to make simple, reasonable adjustments to the care of someone with a learning disability. Figures show that 38% of people with a learning disability die from avoidable causes, compared to 9% of the general population.

Find out more about learning disabilities nursing

The Mencap website contains information which nursing staff may find helpful for improving their knowledge about caring for people with a learning disability and the NHS health careers website highlights the role of a learning disability nurse. Several hospitals have learning disability liaison nurses, though a quarter still have no such posts.

The role of a Learning Disability Liaison Nurse includes helping raise the profile and status of people with a learning disability when in hospital and working directly with patients and families/carers to assist with admission and liaise hospital staff to identify the support required. They can enable hospital services to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ within care delivery, raise awareness of specific health needs for those with learning disabilities, act as an advocate for patients/carers, provide education for hospital staff in this area, advise on easy-to-understand information development and help with pre-admission and discharge planning.

However, when asked about hospital experiences, 21% of people with a learning disability thought healthcare staff were bad at explaining things and 75% said their experience would be improved if staff offered explanations in a way that was easy to understand.

Training must meet needs of people with learning disabilities

Some 47% of hospitals and 22% of universities were shown to have shortcomings in training in the area of learning disabilities.

Mencap chief executive Jan Tregelles said: “NHS England has made real efforts to improve care for people with a learning disability but this scandal has been well known over a decade, and families still contact us who believe their loved ones should not have died whilst in hospital care.”

Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary Janet Davies said: “Providers and commissioners of healthcare must offer every member of the nursing team training in how best to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities, and universities must meet their legal obligation to train student nurses in how to provide information for patients with learning disabilities in a way they can understand.”
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