Nearly half of NHS hospitals in England do not have a learning disability liaison nurse in place, according to research by a charity, which has warned the shortage is putting patients’ lives at risk.
Learning disability charity Mencap found 42% of acute trusts had a learning disability liaison nurse available and, of those, around a third hosted – rather than directly employed – them.
It said this lack of support meant patients were being mistakenly diagnosed as having illnesses that were a consequence of their disability rather than other, more serious, conditions.
“Hospital staff must no longer write-off someone’s illness as a consequence of their disability”
The charity also found that none of the 125 acute trusts that responded to Freedom of Information requests had 24-hour provision of learning disability liaison nurses.
On average, each trust only had 30 hours of learning disability nursing cover out of 168 hours in the week, it added.
The charity called for the government to ensure that all NHS hospitals have a learning disability liaison nurse available 24 hours a day.
It has written ministers an open letter that is also signed by families, health professionals and organisations including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association.
Mencap points to its previous research, which found that every day three people with learning disabilities die prematurely due to delays or problems with diagnosis or treatment.
The letter said: “The government must act now to stop this needless waste of life. For 10 years successive governments have been told by doctors, nurses, researchers, families and Mencap that steps could be taken to prevent these deaths.
“The presence of learning disability liaison nurses – health professionals trained to care for people with a learning disability – has been a key recommendation, yet we now know that almost half of acute NHS trusts don’t employ any, with none offering 24 hour availability,” the letter stated.
Mencap chief executive Jan Tregelles added that more training for staff around learning disabilities was also of “fundamental” importance.
“In order to tackle the unacceptable inequalities that people with a learning disability face in the NHS, greater learning disability training and awareness is fundamental,” she said. “Hospital staff must no longer write-off someone’s illness as a consequence of their disability and they must start listening to what families have to say.”
She added: “The government must take action to ensure that people with a learning disability get the high quality healthcare they need and put an end to this scandal of avoidable deaths. No more excuses – people with a learning disability and their families deserve better.”