Doctors admit people with learning difficulties face discrimination


Almost half of doctors – and more than a third of nurses – believe people with learning difficulties receive poorer healthcare than the rest of the population, according to a new survey.

Similar numbers have seen a patient with a learning difficulty being treated with neglect or lack of dignity or receive poor care, while nearly four out of ten doctors and a third of nurses believe people with learning difficulties face discrimination in the NHS.

The online survey of more than 1,000 doctors and nurses for the charity Mencap also found that more than half of doctors and more than two thirds of nurses admitted they needed guidance on how treatment should be adjusted to meet the needs of patients with learning difficulties.

The results come two weeks after Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said people with learning difficulties still faced a two-tier health system.

Lee told Disability News Service that he and other people with learning difficulties faced a “lottery” on whether they were taken seriously by healthcare staff when seeking treatment.

Three years ago, Mencap’s Death by Indifference report highlighted the cases of six people with learning difficulties who died unnecessarily in NHS hospitals, and accused the NHS of institutional discrimination.

The following year, Sir Jonathan Michael’s inquiry into access to healthcare for people with learning difficulties – set up in response to Death by Indifference –found “convincing evidence” that they had “higher levels of unmet need and receive less effective treatment”.

Mencap published the results of the new survey as it launched its Getting It Right campaign, which has been backed by the National Autistic Society.

It wants health trusts to sign up to a charter, which explains the adjustments healthcare professionals should make when treating someone with a learning difficulty.

Among its demands are: awareness training for all staff; a learning difficulties liaison nurse in every hospital; staff to ensure every person with a learning difficulty can have an annual health check; and information that is accessible to people with learning difficulties.

Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said the survey showed the need for “urgent action”, while the campaign aims to ensure that “ignorance and discrimination need never be the cause of death of someone with a learning disability”.

He said the charter would make health trusts accountable to people with learning difficulties, and their families and carers.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Improvements have been made in delivering healthcare for people with learning disabilities but there is still much to do. Health remains one of the three priorities for the government’s learning disability strategy.”

21 June 2010


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