All of us who work in and with services can play a part – a Learning Disability Week blog

Learning Disability Week can remind us that people with a learning disability use all NHS services. We might typically think of people using speech and language services, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social care or mental health, GP or specialist hospital services, but colleagues across the NHS, from dentistry to screening services and cardiology, need to consider their role in caring for patients with a learning disability.

Having reasonable adjustments to meet individual needs is a human right, and all of us who work in and with services can play a part in ensuring people have access to high quality and personalised health care.

My colleague Fazilla has made a wonderful film with her son Kareem, who has a learning disability, about how some fairly basic reasonable adjustments can have a significant positive impact on their experience of healthcare. This should be the case for everyone; we should be able to find a way to meet someone’s needs whatever they may be.

Reasonable adjustments can be simple to do. It could be offering double appointments and more time so as not to be rushed; offering quieter areas to wait, perhaps outside or in the car, or simply being patient, friendly and understanding, and explaining what will happen beforehand.

I can remember a number of times when as a doctor I met someone in their car or while walking around the hospital grounds. These adjustments are vital in making sure that people with a learning disability and autistic people have access to the services they need at the right time and in the right way.

So for me, Learning Disability Week is a reminder to all of us to think about what we can do to improve people’s experience across the breadth of our services. It is also a chance to ask all staff within the NHS to actively listen: listen to people themselves as well as their family and carers and to deliver truly patient-centred care.

Thinking about the words we use and the way we communicate can also really empower someone to have a say in the care they receive. Adapting our language can make a big impact on outcomes for patients and their families.

Equally, enabling people to ask questions, have a conversation and be involved in a decision about recommended treatment is what all of us would expect for ourselves and our family members. I would argue strongly that it is even more important for someone with a learning disability or who is autistic, who may face challenges in communication yet have clear preferences about their health and wellbeing.

This is my final year as National Clinical Director and will be my last Learning Disability Week in this role. I will be continuing, however, to encourage everyone I meet in health and care to think about what they themselves can do to ensure that people with a learning disability and autistic people are supported to have an equally positive experience as anyone else.

Dr Roger Banks FRCPsych FRCGP(hon) FIPD is a Consultant Psychiatrist with more than 30 years of experience of working with people with a learning disability, autistic people and their families. In 2020 he was appointed as National Clinical Director for Learning Disability and Autism.

Roger is a previous Vice-President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Fellow of the Institute of Psychotherapy and Disability. He is Vice President of the Association for Research and Training on Integration in Europe (ARFIE) and a past President of the European Association for Mental Health in Intellectual Disability.

In 2009-10 he was jointly responsible for drafting “Better Health – Better Lives” the World Health Organisation’s Declaration and Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families and he continues to work as a consultant to WHO-Europe on intellectual disability issues.