Watchdog Finds Hospitals fail people with learning disabilities

NHS letting down people with lerning disabilities
Image taken by Dmitry Ratushny

Hospitals Failing People with Learning Disabilities: A Disturbing Reality

The HSSIB’s investigation sheds light on the alarming reality of hospitals failing individuals with learning disabilities.


The safety and well-being of individuals with learning disabilities in hospitals across England are being compromised, according to a report by the Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB).

The review conducted by HSSIB highlights persistent and widespread risks faced by this vulnerable population.

The findings reveal a concerning lack of skills and support among hospital staff when it comes to meeting the unique needs of patients with learning disabilities.

With nearly one million adults in England living with learning disabilities, it is imperative that hospitals address these issues to ensure the highest standard of care.

The HSSIB’s investigation was prompted by a heartbreaking incident involving a 79-year-old man who passed away two weeks after being admitted to a hospital.

The man, who had a mild learning disability and struggled with speaking and hearing, was initially admitted for chest and skin infections.

However, his time in the hospital was marked by anxiety and communication difficulties. Unfortunately, the hospital’s sole specialist learning disability nurse was on leave, exacerbating the challenges faced by the patient and the staff.

During his stay, the man refused care and blood tests, leading to a delayed diagnosis of kidney failure. Tragically, he succumbed to a cardiac arrest before the test results were known.

The HSSIB investigation concluded that the hospital failed to adequately meet his needs, underscoring the urgent need for improvements in the care provided to individuals with learning disabilities.

The HSSIB’s review extended beyond the specific case mentioned above and examined the care provided to individuals with learning disabilities in various healthcare settings.

One of the key issues identified was the unreliability of systems in place to share important information about patients with learning disabilities. Without accurate and accessible information, hospitals struggle to provide appropriate care and support.

The availability of specialist teams, known as learning disability liaison services, varied significantly between hospitals. These teams play a crucial role in supporting general staff in caring for patients with learning disabilities.

The inconsistent provision of these services further compounds the challenges faced by hospitals and puts individuals with learning disabilities at risk.

The HSSIB report also highlighted the lack of sufficient training among general hospital staff when it comes to caring for patients with learning disabilities.

While a national mandatory training program is currently being implemented, there is a pressing need for comprehensive and ongoing training to equip healthcare professionals with the skills necessary to meet the unique needs of this patient population.

Insufficient training can result in distress and confusion for patients and their families, while also increasing the risk of poor health outcomes and potential harm.

It is crucial that hospitals invest in training programs and adopt a consistent approach to specialist support in order to bridge this gap and provide the best possible care for individuals with learning disabilities.

NHS Providers, an organization representing hospitals, has expressed its commitment to eliminating the inequalities faced by individuals with learning disabilities in healthcare settings.

However, they emphasize the need for increased investment in training programs and a more consistent approach to specialist support. These measures are essential to ensure that individuals with learning disabilities receive the same level of care and support as any other patient.

The issues highlighted by the HSSIB report demand immediate attention and action. It is essential that hospitals prioritize the safety and well-being of individuals with learning disabilities, providing them with the support and care they deserve.

By addressing the gaps in training, improving information sharing systems, and ensuring the availability of specialist teams, hospitals can take significant strides towards rectifying the shortcomings identified in the report.