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Planet Rachael: Time to debunk assumptions about learning disability and sexual health

If all healthcare staff had a better understanding of learning disability, they would be able to provide good quality care for all service users

If all healthcare staff had a better understanding of learning disability, they would be able to provide good quality care for all service users


Picture: Getty

Evidence suggests people with learning disabilities can be disregarded by those who profess to care.

They can have their lives devalued by those who, evidence suggests, make ill-founded discriminatory assumptions about quality of life.

You will know that where these attitudes exist and persist, so does health inequality.

As an example, I attempted to arrange a female health test for Rachael that she herself, having carefully read the literature, decided she wanted to have.

Exposed to risky behaviours?

The practice nurse tried to argue she didn’t need it ‘as she won’t be sexually active’ (says who?) or wouldn’t be exposing herself to risky behaviours I (hope not, but – again – says who?).

Like me, you will be concerned that the third annual report of the Learning Disability Mortality Review (LeDeR) programme, published by the University of Bristol continues to articulate ongoing concerns about the avoidable, premature deaths of people with learning disabilities.

Having read each report since the programme’s inception it is depressing to read year after year that in a significant number of cases, care continues to fall far below expected good practice – and one in ten cases there were concerns raised about the circumstances leading to the person’s death.

If these were the statistics for the neurotypical patient there would be placard waving crowds in the street and calls for a public inquiry.

Bias is of greater concern

Of greater concern to me as a healthcare professional is the indication of bias, because this is not about resources, or the quality of the services themselves, but about eminently avoidable discriminatory staff attitudes and behaviours.

If all health professionals had a better understanding of learning disability, they would be able to provide good quality care to everyone regardless of whether they have a disability or not.

The time to change is now.


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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