Mandatory Autism and Learning Disability Training for NHS Staff

Nicky Broyd

November 05, 2019

A major review of health inequalities for patients with autism and those with learning difficulties in England has culminated in the introduction of a mandatory NHS training programme.

The Government review followed high profile cases of patients with autism and learning disabilities being mistreated or held in secure units – despite promises over the years to improve the system and improve community care.

In May, the Children's Commissioner for England said that too many children with learning disabilities or autism are admitted to secure hospitals when they do not need to be there.

In October, an audit by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) warned that growing pressures on hospitals in England risked creating a "perfect storm" for patients with mental health problems, learning disabilities, and autism.

'Right to Be Heard'

The new plans are set out in the report called 'Right to be heard'.

They follow the death of 18-year-old Oliver McGowan who was given anti-psychotic medication at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital against his wishes and those of his parents. His medical records showed his intolerance to the drugs that caused brain swelling which led to his death.

That prompted Paula and Tom McGowan to campaign for better care for patients like their son. The training programme will be launched in his name.

Over the next 12 months, all patients with learning disabilities and autism who are inpatients in a mental health hospital in England will have their care reviewed.

There's also a commitment to give every patient a date for discharge, or a clear explanation of why that may not be appropriate, and how they can be helped towards discharge into community care.

'Determined to Put This Right'

Health and Social Care Secretary for England, Matt Hancock, said in a statement: "For those living with learning disabilities and autistic people, the current system can leave them in isolation for long periods of time, with no prospect of release into the community.

"I am determined to put this right and today we are committing to reviewing the care of every patient with learning disability and autism over the next 12 months – alongside a clear plan to get them discharged back into their homes and communities. I have also asked for advice on separating out the law regarding those with learning disabilities and autism from the law regarding mental health."

An independent expert panel will review cases of patients in long-term segregation. It will be chaired by Baroness Sheila Hollins. She said: "I don’t think it can ever be right to segregate someone as a form of care, and even more so when there is no planned end date.

"The oversight panel will actively review progress of an action learning project designed to identify existing barriers, and implement solutions that will transform people’s lives. Our focus will be on each person’s humanity, and entitlement to live an ordinary and safe life in a place where their own concerns and needs will be understood and met by supporters who treat them with respect and have the right skills and supervision."

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