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Planet Rachael: Learning disability and autism improvement standards are a game changer

A new year’s email gave Wendy Johnson the chance to celebrate a breakthrough in quality improvement

A New Year’s email gave Wendy Johnson the chance for her trust to improve learning disability standards

It’s not often I get an email that makes me want to do a little dance, but one appeared in my in box that did just that.


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No, it wasn’t the seasonal ‘thank you for your hard work’ giveaway by my NHS trust that stretched to three free days parking – on days I wasn’t working anyway. Nor was it the ‘you have won the star prize in the staff lottery’ for the – and I am not exaggerating – 240th time of trying.

No, it was the email designating me as the person to benchmark my trust’s position against NHS Improvement's learning disability and autism improvement standards published in the autumn. 

Potential game changer

The extra work wasn’t particularly welcome given that my in tray is starting to look less traversable than a Brexit deal, but I know in my heart that delivering against these standards has the potential to be a game changer.

For trusts such as mine there are three standards: respecting and protecting rights, inclusion and engagement, and workforce. The standards have been developed with several outcomes created by people with learning disabilities and families, and which state clearly what they expect from the NHS.

By taking this approach to quality improvement, it places patient and carer experience as the primary objective, as well as recognising the importance of how the NHS must listen, learn and respond to improve care.

It would have been interesting to have been part of that process. Given my own experience of people with learning disabilities, I would imagine there was some serious standard filtering before final publication. If Rachael had been on the panel we would have been benchmarked against the use of line-caught tuna and the option of candyfloss for breakfast.

Nothing published in recent memory comes close to these standards as levers for change, given the scrutiny trusts will now face through contract requirements and regulatory inspections. The advent of these standards is not a moment too soon.   


About the author

Wendy Johnson is head of safeguarding adults at risk and nursing lead for learning disabilities at Great Western Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Swindon – and she writes about life with her daughter Rachael, who has autism

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