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'There are still barriers to making the workforce autism aware'

Stephen Simpson
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The Department of Health and Social Care has recently announced a consultation for health professionals about mandatory training on learning disability and autism. 

This has come about following the campaign by Paula McGowan after the tragic death of her son Oliver. Medical staff failed to understand Oliver’s learning disability and autism and the reasons for his behaviour. They didn’t listen to his parents who knew him best. Oliver did not recover from a reaction to an antipsychotic medication that they said he should not be given. 

The details of this training and how it will be implemented are described in the consultation; however I am already having concerns that the training programme will not satisfy many who have campaigned for it. We must find a way though.

The NHS is a large and cumbersome organisation with differing priorities and many people doing their best to keep it afloat. Autism and learning disabilities have been identified as key issues in the recently launched 10-year plan.

So what does that mean and what timescale is there to deliver mandatory training? Nothing is legally binding and please forgive me for being sceptical but what happens with a change of minster or government?

Even being optimistic, there are still a few barriers that need to be considered to make the workforce autism and learning disability aware. For example, the following:

  • Time to complete the training;
  • Keeping it realistic such as when, where, how;
  • Different levels of knowledge for different staff;
  • Covering all staff including part-time and night staff;
  • Keeping training up to date;
  • Involving patients and carers on a local level;
  • Making it a priority when there are competing demands.

I am sure that many, if not all, nurses would like more knowledge to help them care better for patients. However, with low morale throughout the NHS and demands as high as ever, how is this training going to happen?

Time to complete this training will be problematic as there are many vulnerable patients who struggle in healthcare settings, for example those with physical disabilities, mental health conditions, brain injury, addiction problems and dementia.

There are a number of guidance documents on some of these but I don’t get any mandatory training on these either. Should we also have a vulnerable person mandatory training package or a charter or an awareness campaign?

We must find a way to protect patients like Oliver McGowan from the treatment he received and educate health professionals, but principles of respect, dignity, active listening to parents and carers need to be at the heart of any effective change.

Nurses must be at the forefront of this by leading the change and support this training.

What are your thoughts? I am sure you have some. Please discuss and contribute to this consultation here.

Stephen Simpson is senior autism nurse practitioner at South West Yorkshire Foundation Trust

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