A lack of training for health professionals could be contributing to 1,200 avoidable deaths of people with a learning disability in England each year, research has found.
A poll of 506 healthcare professionals for Mencap found 23% had never received training on meeting the needs of patients with a learning disability and 45% thought the lack of training may contribute to avoidable deaths.
The findings were published on Thursday, a week after a coroner condemned “gross failures” in the care of Richard Handley, who had Down’s syndrome and died from constipation.
To prevent such deaths, Mencap, backed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), is calling on NHS England and the government to ensure that no health professional can set foot in a hospital without receiving training on learning disability.
The charity’s chief executive, Jan Tregelles, said: “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 over a decade, and families still contact us who believe their loved ones should not have died whilst in hospital care … No family should be left wondering whether or not their loved one could have been saved.”
Research published in 2013 found there were more than three deaths of people with a learning disability every day which could have been prevented by better medical care. Another study, published the same year, found 38% of people with a learning disability died from avoidable causes, compared with 9% of the general population. Despite those figures, Mencap says not enough has been done to address the issue.
To coincide with the launch of its Treat Me Well campaign, Mencap also submitted a number of freedom of information requests to hospitals and English universities on the training they provide.
The responses revealed that 47% of hospitals do not include information on learning disability in their induction training for clinical staff, and 22% of universities were found not to include training on making reasonable adjustments to the care of someone with a learning disability in their undergraduate medicine degree. Making such adjustments is a legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010.
Janet Davies, the RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “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.
“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.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Across the NHS health checks, accessible information and staff training are all being put into place to ensure people with learning disabilities are not disadvantaged.”