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How can we ensure all nurses understand learning disabilities and autism? Last chance to have your say

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Today, 26 April, is the last chance to contribute to a government consultation on learning disability and autism training for health and care staff.

The consultation is considering issues around training and how to better support people with a learning disability or autism. The proposed training will include how learning disabilities and autism affect people, the skills and care needed to support them, and the difference between the two conditions.

This move has been prompted by failures in care including that of Oliver McGowan, an 18-year-old with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism who, during a hospital admission, was given antipsychotic medication even though he and his family had warned it could be harmful. Having been given the drug, Oliver suffered a severe brain injury which he did not recover from.

“Research shows that despite suffering greater ill-health, this group faces significant health inequalities compared with the rest of the population”

One of the key aims in the new The NHS Long Term Plan is that “the whole NHS will improve its understanding of the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism, and work together to improve their health and wellbeing”.

As the long-term plan highlights, over 1.2 million people in England have a learning disability and around 600,000 people have the lifelong condition of autism. An estimated 20-30% of people with a learning disability also have autism.

Research shows that, despite suffering greater ill-health, this group faces significant health inequalities compared with the rest of the population.

In 2017, the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Programme found that a third of deaths in people with a learning disability were due to respiratory conditions and 18% were due to diseases of the circulatory system.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has contributed to the consultation, acknowledging that there can be a “fatal gap” in the knowledge of health and care professionals when it comes to the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism.

In its response the NMC states that the proposed training should cover key areas, including communication and listening skills and equality legislation, as well as the crucial element of not making assumptions.

“What are your views on this important area of care?”

The NMC commented that the training should address the issue of “diagnostic overshadowing”, where nurses without adequate knowledge and understanding “see the disability before the person” and assume their behaviour or symptoms are part of their disability, rather than an underlying health condition.

The NMC highlighted the need to ensure training was suitable for a variety of settings including care homes, schools and prisons as well as GP surgeries and hospitals.

What are your views on this important area of care? Today is your last chance to give your views and share your expertise. Don’t miss the opportunity. All nurses’ views matter.

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