More accessible healthcare needed for people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland

People with a learning disability need more accessible healthcare, as they are more likely to experience a range of health inequalities compared to the wider population, that is the message of the ‘Learning Disability Health Care Matters’ event organised by Mencap NI and the Patient and Client Council on Monday 15 October at the Mencap Centre in Belfast.  

The event is part of Mencap’s Activism Week for the learning disability charity’s ‘Treat Me Well’ health campaign in Northern Ireland and will focus on the importance of equitable, safe and accessible healthcare for people with a learning disability.

Speakers include Owen Barr, Professor of Nursing and Intellectual Disabilities at Ulster University, who said: “Concerns about access to health care, the safety of and the treatment outcomes for people with learning disabilities in general hospitals has been a persistent issue for over 20 years. Staff in the School of Nursing at Ulster University has led various research projects which have consistently highlighted the need for reasonable adjustments to improved access to healthcare. Recent national reports continue to show that many people with learning disabilities face real challenges when trying to access health care, particularly in general hospitals and this can contribute to much poorer outcomes.”

Professor Barr continued saying: “The development of the HSC Hospital Passport for people with learning disabilities launched by PHA in May 2017, together with the publication of the Revised Guidelines on Caring for People with a Learning Disability in General Hosptials (RQIA 2018) last week and the new free to access eLearning course are important new resources that staff in general hospitals should be using to become more knowledgable, competent and confident in this important area of their work.”

At the event the Patient and Client Council will launch their report on ‘Annual Health Checks’, which are carried out by GPs. Annual Health Checks are offered to people with a learning disability to ensure they stay healthy and to identify any health problems early.  The Patient and Client Council spoke to people with a learning disability and their carers to hear their views and opinions on the Annual Health Checks Service. 

Maeve Hully, Chief Executive of the Patient and Client Council said: “On the whole people were very positive with their experiences of the Annual Health Checks service, with strong praise given to the role of Health Facilitators in GP practices.  The people we spoke to highlighted that the support they get from health facilitators in their GP practice was very good, but there was no similar service provided in hospital.  We believe there is scope for a similar role in hospitals to provide support and advice to people with a learning disability who have identified that they often find hospital visits and stays stressful.”

The Public Health Agency will present their findings on the evaluation of the Regional Hospital Passport for individuals with a learning disability, focusing on the distribution, awareness and usage of the Hospital Passport.

There are 42,000 people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland, with 5,000 under the age seven, and most will engage with the NI Healthcare system at some point in their lives.  Mencap’s Treat Me Well campaign aims to raise awareness about the healthcare needs of people with a learning disability, including highlighting the main barriers to quality health provision for people with a learning disability.

Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap NI said: “Simple changes in hospital care can make a big difference for people with a learning disability. Better communication, more time and clearer information is important to ensure reasonable adjustments. People with a learning disability are four times more likely to die an avoidable death. We need to raise awareness in Hospitals of the needs of people with a learning disability and we are calling for people to become activists in our Treat Me Well campaign.”

If you wish to support Mencap NI’s Treat Me Well campaign you can sign up at https://www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-mencap/current-campaigns/treat-me-well