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Train nurses to recognise mental health problems in people with learning disabilities, says NICE

Draft guideline on prevention and management seeks input from staff  

All healthcare professionals should be taught that people with learning disabilities are at increased risk of mental health problems, according to a draft guideline from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The guideline, on prevention, assessment and management of mental health problems in people with learning disabilities, is out for consultation. 

About 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability, 286,000 of whom are children. An estimated 40% of these adults and 36% of these children also experience mental health problems, and these can often be overlooked, which leads to delays in diagnosis.

NICE wants nurses and other healthcare professionals to help people with learning disabilities engage in community and leisure activities; the institute says this will help prevent mental health problems. 

The guideline calls for a care plan to be created for a person with learning disabilities and mental health problems, as well as an annual GP check-up.

It also recommends aiming for the lowest effective dose of medication for mental health problems, and that healthcare professionals should take account of potential side effects and difficulties patients may face in reporting them.

NICE director for the centre of clinical practice Mark Baker said: 'Anyone can experience mental health problems at any stage of their life. People with learning disabilities cannot always communicate their distress, and symptoms can be masked or mistakenly overlooked. We need to do more to support them, and their families and care workers.'

The institute wants nurses and other staff to comment on the draft recommendations, and has asked for feedback on whether approaches such as healthy eating and exercise can help prevent or manage mental health problems.

The consultation closes on April 20 and the full guideline is expected to be published in the summer. 

Read the draft guideline here.

To take part in the consultation, click here.

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