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Better clinical training needed to prevent learning disability deaths

Almost quarter of health professionals have had no LD training

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Poor or non-existent clinical training for health professionals in how to care for patients with a learning disability (LD) could be contributing to 1,200 avoidable deaths every year, suggests a leading charity.

The learning disability charity Mencap has today launched its Treat me well campaign, seeking to transform how the NHS treats people with a learning disability and to ensure that no healthcare professional can set foot in a hospital without proper training on these issues.

Mencap commissioned a YouGov online survey of 506 healthcare professionals which revealed that almost a quarter (23%) of professionals had never attended training on how to meet the needs of patients with a learning disability.

The research, released to coincide with the launch of the campaign, also found that almost half (45%) of healthcare professionals thought that a lack of training on learning disability might be contributing to the avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability.

More than a third (37%) thought the quality of healthcare received by patients with a learning disability was worse than that received by patients without a learning disability.

Previous research* found that there were an estimated 1,200 avoidable deaths of adults and children with a learning disability in the UK every year and another report** found that 38% of people with a learning disability died from an avoidable cause, compared to 9% in a comparison population of people without a learning disability.

Mencap said it had highlighted the issue of avoidable learning disability deaths 10 years ago and in response to ongoing concern since it was created, NHS England had made learning disability a national priority.

To bolster this, Mencap, backed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), was calling for more to be done.

The charity also sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to NHS foundation trusts and English universities offering courses in medicine or adult nursing. The FOI requests gathered 63 responses from universities and 118 responses from trusts.

These revealed:

  •  Almost half (47%) of hospitals do not include information on learning disability in their induction training for clinical staff
  • Almost a quarter (22%) of universities do not include training on making reasonable adjustments to the care of someone with a learning disability (which are a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010) in their undergraduate medicine degree.
Jan Tregelles, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “Every day, three people with a learning disability die avoidable deaths. Yet, a quarter of health professionals say they have never been given training on learning disability. We all need to act to fix this.

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

“Government and NHS England must now ensure no healthcare professional steps foot in a hospital without having training on providing healthcare to people with a learning disability.”

RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “No patient should ever die or be harmed because healthcare staff haven’t had the right training to care for them properly.

“Nursing staff want to be able to deliver the best possible care to every patient, but they need the right education to be able to do that.”

*Glover, G. and Emerson, E. Estimating how many deaths of people with learning disabilities in England could be prevented by better medical care (2013). Tizard Learning Disability Review, 18(3): 146-149. DOI:10.1108/TLDR-03-2013-0025
**Heslop, P., Blair, P., Fleming, P., Hoghton, M., Marriott, A., & Russ, L. (2013) Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD): Final Report (2013). Norah Fry Research Centre.

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