Change that leads to better lives

Better health for people with learning disabilities – we’re all in this together

People with learning disabilities have poorer health than the general population and die earlier. Fact.

We see terrible stories of people let down by services reported with shocking regularity across the country in local newspapers and via social media. We analyse information and make it public via the Learning Disabilities Public Health Observatory (IHAL), which we are part of with Public Health England and the Centre for Disability Research at the University of Lancaster. We know the situation needs to be improved. The question is, and has been for many years, what to do about it. In fact, much can be done by social care providers, working together with people with learning disabilities, family carers and their health colleagues to improve the situation.

That’s why the Learning Disabilities Public Health Observatory and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group got together in 2014 to develop The Health Charter for Social Care Providers with guidance on how to manage common health problems and a clear framework for improving practice. The charter was co-produced with providers, commissioners, self-advocates, carers, health staff and commissioners. Social care providers can sign up via the VODG website, and over 100 have already done so.

Today, a new report on the implementation of the Health Charter for Social Care Providers is launched, containing examples of good practice along with updated guidance. We are all in this together was the message that Durham County Council’s Commissioning team and Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust Learning Disability Health Facilitation team wanted to get across at an event in 2014 to encourage providers to implement the Health Charter.

Sign up to the charter is now included in Durham County Council’s contractual monitoring arrangements. Implementation has enabled commissioners and the local health facilitation team identify gaps in health services and prioritise resources. They can now identify providers who are in most need of support, particularly around individuals with complex health needs. Nearly all providers in Durham are now signed up to the charter.

A provider in Durham noted that the Health Charter had made them think more about capacity assessments, and embedding assessments of capacity in day to day work. Choice regarding food is often an issue for people with learning disabilities. Potential new staff are asked by people supported and their families at interview stage if they can cook and Staff have been successful in introducing menus with healthier choices that people have enjoyed and continue to like. Managers at all levels have found discussing these issues and solutions with their peers has been really helpful in sharing best practice and learning new ways of working.

Effective partnership working has to be the solution to poor practice around basic health care needs. The Health Charter for Social Care Providers gives a framework for people to do this, but at the end of the day it is the commitment of organisations who recognise that health is everyone’s business, and that we are all in this together, that will make the difference. Let’s work together to improve lives and help reduce the appalling neglect we still see on a regular basis.

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