Adults with a learning disability die on average 16 years earlier than the general population. But although they are more likely to suffer from ill health, people with learning disabilities or autism also often struggle with poor access to healthcare. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act made it a duty of the government to “have regard to the need to reduce [health] inequalities”. This policy aims to achieve that through reducing stigma and discrimination in healthcare for those with learning disabilities and autism.
The most significant strategic development in the NHS under this government has been the publication in January 2019 of the NHS Long Term Plan. The plan contains this promise:
“Across the NHS, we will do more to ensure that all people with a learning disability, autism, or both can live happier, healthier, longer lives.”
The section addressing learning disability and autism outlines various measures aimed at achieving this policy objective, including:
- action to tackle the causes of morbidity and preventable deaths in people with a learning disability and for autistic people
- the NHS will improve its understanding of the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism
reduced waiting time for specialist services
- increased investment in intensive, crisis and forensic community support
- a focus on improving the quality of inpatient care across the NHS and independent sector
It’s too soon to reach a judgement on the success of initiatives in the Long Term Plan, but the publication of what can be seen as a roadmap for reducing stigma and discrimination is enough for us to mark this as ‘in progress’. We’ll keep tracking and looking for meaningful evidence of an improved or worsening situation before we decide if this can be moved to either ‘done’ or ‘broken’. Follow this policy to stay informed.
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