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Hospitals failing to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities

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The safety of people with learning disabilities who are hospitalized in the UK is at risk, regulators say.

A review of the care people receive by the Health Service Safety Inquiry Board (HSSIB) found “persistent and pervasive” risks.

It warned that staff did not have the skills or support to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities.

The regulator launched the review after receiving reports that a 79-year-old man with a mild learning disability died of cardiac arrest two weeks after being admitted to hospital.

The older man, who had difficulty speaking and hearing, was initially admitted to hospital with chest and skin infections. He became anxious during his stay and healthcare staff had difficulty communicating with him.

There was only one learning disability specialist nurse in the hospital, who was on leave at the time.

During the two weeks he was hospitalized, the man refused care and blood tests. When blood tests were finally successfully carried out, it was discovered that he was suffering from kidney failure. However, he died of cardiac arrest before those results were released.

Regulators say the hospital failed to adequately meet his needs.

As part of the investigation, HSSIB also looked at the care provided for people with learning disabilities elsewhere.

Hospitals failing to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities

The investigation found that the systems used to share information about people with learning disabilities were unreliable, and that the specialist teams in hospitals that supported general staff, known as learning disability liaison services, were inconsistent.

The survey also noted that there was insufficient training for general staff, but also noted that a national mandatory training scheme was currently being rolled out.

Claire Crawley, senior investigator, said: ‘When needs are not met, it can cause distress and confusion for patients, their families and carers, increase the risk of adverse health outcomes and, in the worst cases, cause harm.

Saffron Cordery, who represents the hospital’s NHS provider, said the service was committed to “eliminating” the inequalities faced by such patients.

But she said there was a need for investment in training programs and a more consistent approach to specialist support.

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