Anna’s Blog – How the NHS plans to address the Inequality in Health Care

Anna’s Blog – How the NHS plans to address the Inequality in Health Care

Life expectancy for people with a learning disability is 16 years lower than the rest of the population. Our CEO, Anna Lunts, looks at how the NHS plans to address the inequality in health care. 

The health inequalities for people with a learning disability are well-documented. Mencap’s 2007 report, Death by Indifference, makes shocking, heart-breaking reading.

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the country. On average, they die 16 years earlier than the general population. Statistics suggest that around 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably each year.

The NHS 10-year-plan makes specific recommendations for improving the health of people with a learning disability including annual health checks and trialling specific health checks for people with autism.

Under the plan, all healthcare providers will be expected to make reasonable adjustments to provide appropriate treatment for people with a learning disability and NHS staff will receive training on how best to support them.

Training seems paramount when you read about the appalling treatment some people with a learning disability and their families receive. One family who shared their story for the Death by Indifference report said the NHS staff failed to recognise their daughter was in pain:

“They said they didn’t think she was in pain, that her screams were just the noises people like that make.”
If there are health professionals who genuinely believe that people with a learning disability have a higher pain threshold than the rest of the population then training must be a priority.

The 10-year plan outlines a range of measures including a stop to the over medicating of people with a learning disability and improving the take-up of annual health checks. It says the waiting times for specialist services must be reduced and, crucially, there needs to be more investment in community support to reduce inpatient admissions. If planning and investment in social care is needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of the general population, as I wrote last week, then it is absolutely vital for those with a learning disability.

There are other simple measures that can be introduced – making sure people with a learning disability have a hospital passport, for example, and ensuring learning disability liaison nurses are employed in all acute services.

I was talking to a member of one of our teams who supported an older resident with a learning disability. Mary, not her real name, was approaching the end of her life. She was diagnosed with heart failure and our dedicated team supported her in making decisions about her care. Mary wanted to die in her own home surrounded by the people who had supported her over several years. She lived in supported housing and was popular with other residents and the staff. How much she meant to those who supported her was evident by the emotion in their voices when they told me with pride how Mary had died at the age of 89, in her own bed, in the home she loved, surrounded by the people who were not just her carers but also her friends.

Of course strategic planning, training and proper procedure have to be in place but it is instinctive humanity that creates a good, caring environment – those responses of compassion, patience and understanding that can’t be written into a plan.