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Discrimination against learning disabled on the NHS

21 June 2010

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Nearly half of doctors and a third of nurses have witnessed discrimination against people with learning difficulties in the NHS, a survey has found.

Some 45% of doctors and 33% of nurses surveyed by Mencap said they had personally observed discrimination against those with learning difficulties, such as patients receiving poor quality care or suffering a lack of dignity and respect.

According to the charity, 46% of doctors and 37% of nurses felt the NHS care received by those with learning difficulties was poorer, compared with other groups.

Overall, 39% of doctors and 34% of nurses believed patients suffered from discrimination.

Mencap’s survey of 1,084 healthcare workers found 35% of doctors and nurses had not been trained in making “reasonable adjustments” to help those with learning disabilities receive equal treatment.

This is despite such adjustments being required by law. Mencap said such adjustments can “mean the difference between life and death for a patient”.

Many healthcare professionals said they wanted more guidance on how to adjust care and treatment for those with learning disabilities.

The charity said it had received more “tragic accounts” of the experiences of people with learning disabilities since its 2007 report, Death by Indifference, highlighted six cases of people who died unnecessarily in NHS hospitals.

Mark Goldring, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “Healthcare professionals have recognised they need more support to get it right when treating people with a learning disability.”

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “People with learning disabilities often experience poorer health and are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital.

“Their health needs can go unrecognised, which has an impact on both quality of life and life expectancy.

“Like all patients, people with learning disabilities should be fully supported and treated with dignity and respect.”

Copyright © Press Association 2010