According to NHS Digital, on average, males and females with learning disabilities can expect to live 14 and 18 years respectively less than the general population. Which is a remarkable difference. But let’s not leap straight to obesity, poor diet and lifestyle choices. One of the key reasons for this is difficulty in investigating, diagnosing and then treating physical illness.
As the end of the year approaches, Frontier Support CEO, Tony Piercy highlights what he sees as one of the key priorities for the care industry in 2019.
Hospital can be worrying and frightening
“Being in hospital can be a worrying and frightening time for us all. Add in a learning disability and those feelings are magnified by an unfamiliar setting surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
“We support over 60 people in Croydon and the South East with a variety of needs including learning disabilities, autism and asperger’s. Many of these people find comfort in structure and familiarity. And, of course, this goes out of the window during a hospital stay. You or I may be able to suffer having things done differently for a few days, but with many of the people we support these types of changes are extremely distressing. And therefore not conducive to recovery.”
And for the already overstretched NHS workers, trying to diagnose someone who may have little or no verbal communication can be very difficult and time consuming.
Added pressure on the NHS
Tony adds: “Unfortunately, pressure on budgets means it’s often not possible for local authority funding to stretch to allow the care that we (and other providers) give to vulnerable people to continue during a hospital stay. But our support workers spend many hours working one to one with clients and know them very well. So, they are extremely well placed to pick up on both verbal and nonverbal cues as to their state of mind, pain levels etc. And this can be invaluable when it comes to helping the patient communicate with medical staff and vice versa.
“Support workers can also suggest small changes to make a real difference to the patient’s happiness and wellbeing without adversely impacting NHS staff. Perhaps around lighting, they way information is presented or food and personal preferences. All of which could well aid relaxation and recovery.
“Understandably, a poor hospital experience can lead to a reluctance to seek help for subsequent issues. Which is why we at Frontier are keen to work collaboratively with social services and the NHS in 2019 to improve the patient experience for people with learning disabilities.”