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Ben Thomas on Improving safety and delivering a better healthcare experience for people with learning disabilities

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Ben ThomasAs the Professional Officer for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities at the Department of Health, I want to make sure that people with learning disabilities receive safe, appropriate and high quality care.  Unfortunately, the Healthcare for All, report of the Independent Inquiry into access to healthcare for people with learning disabilities, published in 2008, highlighted the poor service provision, support available and health outcomes for people with disabilities.  The recommendations were clear about what needed to be done, and by whom, and included the setting up of a time-limited Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths in people with learning disabilities (CIPOLD).

The Department of Health established and funded the CIPOLD from April 2010 to March 2013.   After reviewing the deaths of 247 people with learning disabilities within 5 Primary Care Trusts in the South-West of England, it reported its findings earlier this year.  The Inquiry also reviewed the deaths of 58 people without learning disabilities to place the findings in context.  The study revealed that the quality and effectiveness of the health and social care given to people with learning disabilities was deficient in a number of ways.  The Department issued a formal response to the findings of the Inquiry and recognises that across the system we will all need to continue to strive to improve and do more.

In the next few months healthcare professionals, service users and other stakeholders have the opportunity to share their views and ideas for delivering safer and better healthcare to people with learning disabilities.  The Confidential Inquiry team are running a series of free events across England to discuss how to take forward their recommendations.  The dates and venues can be found at CIPOLD events<.  Please book in advance to attend these meetings as places are limited.  For further information or to request a booking form please email or call 0117 3310980.

In collaboration with the RCN, Mencap, A2A, Learning Disabilities Observatory, the Department of Health is hosting a conference at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford.  The conference is in response to a number of recommendations in Strengthening the Commitment, the report of the UK Modernising Learning Disabilities Nursing Review and will focus on better acute hospital services for people with learning disabilities, with particular reference to the Monitor Compliance Framework Governance Indicators for people with learning disabilities.  It will be held on Tuesday 15th October and is specifically aimed at acute/ambulance NHS staff rather than those who manage and support specialist learning disability services.  For more information and booking details, please go to

We know that there have been many improvements in acute hospital care for people with learning disabilities, such as the employment of nursing disability nurses.  But, there is more to be done.  We all need to learn and share what works well and work together to make sure people with learning disabilities receive nothing less than the very best care that we can provide.  I do hope you are able to take part in one of the events above.

Dr Ben Thomas is the Mental Health and Learning Disability Professional Officer at the Department of Health

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