Trusts must have plans to tackle a shortage of staff specialising in supporting people with learning difficulties, the NHS regulator for England has said.
The recommendation is one of four new standards issued by NHS Improvement to help trusts measure the standard of care they provide to people with learning disabilities.
“Trusts must have workforce plans that manage and mitigate the impact of the growing shortage of qualified practitioners”
The document – titled The Learning Disability Improvement Standards for NHS Trusts – said that everyone should have equal access to NHS services.
However, it noted that people with learning disabilities and autism sometimes have “much poorer experiences” of the NHS than the general population.
It said: “Several inquiries and investigations have found that some NHS trusts and foundation trusts are failing to adequately respect and protect people’s rights, with devastating consequences for them and their families.
“Also, skills deficits in the NHS workforce mean people’s needs are sometimes misunderstood or responded to inappropriately,” the report said.
Meeting the new standards will enable trusts to deliver high quality services for people with learning disabilities and autism, NHS Improvement added.
The four standards cover respecting and protecting rights, inclusion and engagement, workforce, and learning disability services standard.
The first three standards must be met by all trusts, with the last only applicable to those that provide services exclusively commissioned for people with learning disabilities or autism.
“Services for people with learning disabilities should be provided as close as possible to their homes and communities”
NHS Improvement said that people with learning disabilities should receive safe and personalised treatment in an environment that respects and protects their rights.
Specifically, on workforce the new guidance stated: “Trusts must have workforce plans that manage and mitigate the impact of the growing, cross system shortage of qualified practitioners with a professional specialism in learning disabilities.
“This might include supporting new, emerging roles such as advanced practitioners, apprenticeships, consultant allied health professionals and nurses, clinical academic roles and non-medical prescribers and employing experts by experience/peer workers,” it said.
To enable people with learning disabilities to have the same human rights as the rest of society, their specific needs must be reflected in all NHS trust policies and processes, the document highlighted.
For example, it said: “Services for people with learning disabilities, autism or both should be provided as close as possible to their homes and communities, and must be of the same quality as those delivered to other members of society.”
The new standards have been developed over the past year via consultations with trust colleagues, families, carers and people who use learning disability services.
The service regulator added that it was developing an improvement toolkit to help trusts measure themselves against the standards, which it expected to launch in September.
It said: “The toolkit contains a series of metrics which have been designed by self-advocates, family members and NHS staff.”