Health and social care staff could be legally required to undertake special learning disability or autism training, under new Government proposals.
The move aims to address the stark difference in life expectancy between those with a learning disability and those without, and to break down the barriers autistic people face in accessing healthcare.
Currently, the life expectancy of women with a learning disability is 18 years lower than those without, with a 14-year gap for men.
The proposals would see autistic people and those with a learning disability involved in the training, to help challenge attitudes and unconscious bias.
Clinicians often only see autistic people or people with a learning disability when they are unwell or anxious due to their environment, but the training could provide a safe and relaxed space for professionals to get to know someone and understand how they can make reasonable adjustments to their care, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
As part of an eight-week consultation on the training, published today, the Government is seeking the views of health and social care staff, employers, charities and people with a learning disability or on the autism spectrum, as well as their families and carers.
The Government is exploring routes to make the training a legal requirement, and expect that it would become part of health and care workers’ education and training, either before qualification, or in the role if already qualified.
Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said: “It’s simply unacceptable that the lives of autistic people or those with a learning disability are being cut short in part because of barriers in accessing healthcare that most of us take for granted.
“Our plans to introduce mandatory training for all relevant health and care staff will help them to ensure more people receive the safe, compassionate and informed care that they are entitled to.”
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society said today’s announcement is a “welcome step” towards making sure that people are not put at unnecessary risk when they need help from the NHS.
“The Government has accepted that all health and care staff should have training to help them support people with a learning disability. Similar requirements for autistic people also exist under the Autism Act. But many autistic people tell us that they don’t feel that staff have understood the difficulties they face following complicated health information, communicating their symptoms or with the sounds and smells of hospitals,” he added.
“Now the NHS has identified both autism and learning disability as priorities for their new ten year plan to improve the health service, this is an opportunity to finally create a programme that makes sure all staff have the knowledge they need to provide the best possible care.”