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People with a learning disability have a key role

NHS England’s Director of Transformation – Learning Disabilities, gives her latest update on NHS England’s work to transform care for people with a learning disability:

Getting things right for people with a learning disability and/or autism isn’t just about the services which are specifically for them – whether that means the specialist hospital beds and units we want to reduce the use of, or the community services we want to enhance to replace them.

Meeting that challenge means all NHS operated or funded services – and the people who work in them – need to play their part.

This is often overlooked but really important; people with a learning disability have physical and possibly mental health needs as well, just like we all do, but too often they face barriers accessing these services – whether it’s their local dentist or GP, or a specialist cancer centre.

As a result, we see real inequalities in health outcomes for this group of patients.

That’s why, as part of our work to improve physical health, this month we announced our plans to support the expansion of the NHS Quality Checkers programme.

This important initiative sees people with a learning disability employed to inspect local NHS services critically, to provide advice on how they can better meet their needs and those of other patients.

Just like we want to see local Transforming Care Partnerships engage extensively with service users and their families and carers over the coming months as plans for local services develop, we also want their input into new tools which will help more Quality Checkers set up and be employed to inspect care providers.

View information on how you can get involved.

Mindful that NHS England as an organisation can also do better when it comes to making information more accessible, I’m also pleased that we announced last week – on Global Accessibility Awareness Day – that our website now features Browsealoud.

This new software allows people to listen to the text on this website people read out – including in a different language if they prefer.  Instructions on how to use Browsealoud – why not give it a try with this blog?

In my last blog I spoke about the progress that has been made up to now in speeding up the discharges of people with a learning disability from hospitals, and I want a regular feature each month to be an update on this.

I’m pleased the trend continues to be that more people are being discharged than are admitted; in April there were 60 admissions or transfers into inpatient care, 100 discharges/transfers and 5 patients both admitted and discharged in the month.

Of those 105 discharges and transfers, 20 are identified as transfers to other hospital settings, and 65 were discharges to community settings, while the remaining 20 weren’t specified.

That means the total number of inpatients at 30th April was 2,565, down by 40 from the revised total of 2,605 at the end of March 2016.

Care and Treatment Reviews continue to play a big part in this sustained progress, with 100 reported to have taken place in April.

Since the collection of inpatient numbers transferred to the Health and Social Care Information Centre in February 2015, refinements to the data have seen the numbers for that month and others retrospectively adjusted to include admissions and discharges that weren’t counted at the time. The latest revised March 2015 inpatient total now stands at 2,800, which means that the reduction from then to April 2016 is 235 patients or 8.4%. We continue to work with commissioners to improve the quality and completeness of the data and the timeliness of reporting.

I look forward to hopefully being able to report further progress in my next blog, which will be one of a number to mark Learning Disability Week 2016.

Taking place between the 20 and 26 of June, this year’s theme is friendships and relationships – things which we all cherish, but which are often difficult to maintain for all kinds of reasons for people with a learning disability.

Supporting people to have a good and meaningful everyday life – including developing and maintaining good relationships – is the first principle of the National Service Model which was published alongside Building the right support in October, and I hope to be able to talk next month about how this is translating into local success stories.

  • More information about how you can get involved in Learning Disability Week is available on Mencap’s website.
Dr Julie Higgins

Dr Julie Higgins is NHS England’s Director of Transformation – Learning Disabilities, and Senior Responsible Officer for the Learning Disability Programme.

Previously she was Regional Director of Commissioning for NHS England North Region, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Commissioning Development at NHS Greater Manchester, Chief Executive of NHS Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale, Director of Public Health for Salford and Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Salford.

She previously had a research career in immunology.