NHS Providers call for immediate action to better support people with learning disabilities

The health, wellbeing and life expectancy of people with a learning disability or autism is being damaged by the services and support they receive, a new report has warned.

Some people have been left open to abuse in the extreme cases, according to the NHS Providers report called Getting It Right For Everyone.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharper focus the “longstanding structural inequities” these vulnerable groups have faced, which has meant “too many people are not receiving the care and support they need and should expect from the health and care system”, it states.

NHS Providers is calling for immediate action to tackle stigma and the long-term underfunding of services for people in these groups.

A significant number of recent cases of poor care relate to NHS-funded care in the independent sector.

The report notes: “Given this, there are questions to be asked and answered around the quality of service commissioning and the impact of a mixed market of independent and NHS provision on these vulnerable groups of service users.”

Increased demand, workforce shortages, particularly in the amount of specialist staff, and funding squeezes in the community and social care have heaped “unsustainable pressures” on the health and care system.

This leaves many people unable to tap into much-needed care, from diagnosis through to ongoing support, in a timely way, it said.

Working with users to help plan and deliver services while also taking into account someone’s physical, personal, social and employment needs are some of the hallmarks of high-quality care, NHS Providers said.

Having a pool of skilled staff from a range of disciplines with the right values, along with a collaborative approach by teams within trusts and people such as commissioners, social care and housing providers is also seen as a key measure.

A total of 92% of NHS community mental health services for people with a learning disability or autism were rated good by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in April, of which 8% were judged to be outstanding.

There has also been a recent significant increase in the proportion of wards in independent hospitals which were deemed inadequate, with 22% rated this way on April 1 2020 compared with 5% on July 31 2019.

A BBC Panorama programme aired in 2011 included undercover footage of staff at Gloucestershire’s Winterbourne View Hospital physically and psychologically abusing their vulnerable patients.

This “shocking treatment” shows there has been an “unacceptably slow” move towards improving the availability of consistently high-quality care for these groups of users across all settings, the report adds.

NHS Providers believes there should be more transparent and sustainable funding so the money reaches frontline services, and across health, social care and wider public services, including high-quality housing where people want to live.

It is also calling for a boost to the promotion, training and recruitment of careers in the sector and for providers to try to find new ways to offer more care closer to home.

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery (pictured) said: “People with a learning disability and autistic people have faced longstanding, profound inequity in the care and support they receive.

“This has often damaged their health and wellbeing, life expectancy, and in extreme cases has placed them open to abuse.”

She added that efforts to make a change will need a “renewed determination and concerted action” from Government, NHS national bodies, providers and their local partners.

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