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Making clinical consultations inclusive for people with learning disabilities

02 May 2024
Volume 6 · Issue 5


People with learning disabilities, autism or both (PWLDA) are severely impacted by health inequalities. Health professionals report a lack of confidence and competence when communicating with PWLDA, often leading to over-prescribing medicines and poor-quality care. This article describes a collaboration between a university and the Adventurers, a group of PWLDA, to co-produce communication training as part of a prescribing training programme. Over 800 prescribers reported improved communication skills with PWLDA. The project increased the group's understanding of the healthcare system and appreciation of the power of their voice in shaping their care. The co-production model is now being adopted wider within the university. The Adventurers went on to co-design services and research studies with other organisations and, as a result, won a regional south-west co-production award.

It is not known how many people in the world live with a learning disability or autism, or both (PWLDA) (Olusanya et al, 2023). In England, it is estimated that more than 1.3 million people have a learning disability, including 950 000 adults over the age of 18 (Public Health England, 2023). Around 2.16% of adults and 2.5% children in the UK are believed to have a learning disability (Mencap, 2024).

The Department of Health and Social Care (2001) defines a learning disability as ‘a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning), which started before adulthood’. A learning disability is a lifelong condition, but its severity varies considerably, and is usually assigned a mild, moderate, or severe classification (Public Health England, 2023). Autism and learning disabilities often co-occur, but evidence on their prevalence is scarce. Recent NHS Digital data suggest that PWLD who have been diagnosed with autism had increased from 19.8% in 2016–17 to 28.6% in 2020–21 (NHS Digital, 2021a).

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