Mencap concerns over lack of Learning disability support.

No NHS hospital in England has 24-hour learning disability (LD) nurse cover and more than 40 per cent of NHS trusts do not even employ a single LD nurse, according to Freedom of Information requests from the charity. NHS workforce figures show that there has been a 30 per cent cut in the number of LD nurses employed in the health service over the past five years.

The charity said that the absence of specialist nursing support was putting lives at risk. People with learning disabilities often find it difficult to communicate their condition, and Mencap said there had been numerous cases in which doctors had dismissed dangerous symptoms as merely an aspect of a patient’s disability. The number of LD nurses employed in the English NHS has fallen from 5,700 in September 2009, to fewer than 4,000 in July this year – the month for which data exist.

Research commissioned by Mencap last year estimated that 1,200 people with learning disabilities are dying “needlessly” in the NHS each year, largely due to delays or problems in investigating illnesses.

In their role as go-between for patients, families and doctors, LD nurses can help speed up diagnoses, which in some cases can be the difference between life and death.

However, severe budget pressures on NHS hospitals have led managers to look for savings wherever possible, and Mencap has expressed concern that LD nurses are being viewed as expendable.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, has called for better training for NHS employees. In an open letter co-signed by representatives of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, the charity also calls for 24-hour LD nurse cover across the NHS.

“Every year, 1,200 people with a learning disability are dying prematurely because the health system is not meeting their needs,” they wrote. “This is three people a day. How many more lives have to be lost until every hospital has dedicated learning disability liaison nurses?”

Labour’s shadow minister for public health, Luciana Berger, said that the fall in the number of LD nurses was “unacceptable”. “These shortages are putting vulnerable people at unnecessary risk,” she said. “Under David Cameron, the number of learning disability nurses has fallen. Labour will train and employ more LD nurses as a matter of urgency.


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