Editorial

Compulsory learning disability training for all NHS staff is long overdue

Government announces £1.4 million scheme in England thanks to campaign by one brave mother

 Government announces £1.4 million scheme in England thanks to campaign by one brave mother


Paula McGowan campaigned for mandatory training for all NHS health and social care staff in understanding
the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism since the death of her son Oliver
Picture: John Houlihan

The news that there is to be a mandatory training programme for all NHS health and social care staff in understanding the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism is long overdue.

The reason for this announcement is because of the brave and tenacious work of one campaigning mother, Paula McGowan, whose teenage son Oliver – who experienced high functioning autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy –died in hospital.

Family believe Oliver McGowan’s death was avoidable

Ms Gowan and her family started Oliver’s campaign because they believed that his death was avoidable. They firmly believe that those treating him did not understand his autistic behaviour or listened to him when he and they said he should not be given the antipsychotic medication olanzapine because he had reacted badly to it in the past.

They started a petition calling for mandatory training for NHS staff – from porters to consultants – which led to a parliamentary debate. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in England has now announced the training will go ahead. 

The details are being worked out, but it is likely to be delivered in tiers depending on the level of someone’s likely contact with people with learning disabilities and autism.

People with learning disabilities die earlier than rest of the population

Successive reports – such as the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review – have drawn attention to the fact that people with learning disabilities die earlier than the rest of the population. 

Oliver’s family have fought hard for a training programme to be delivered in his name and the DHSC has agreed this will be the case.

As Ms Gowan told me, it is important that a face is given to the training as it will be a reminder of just why it is needed – so that more people like Oliver do not die because people do not understand their needs and do not listen to the families that know them well.

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