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Better preparing people with learning disabilities to navigate healthcare

02 March 2024
Volume 29 · Issue 3

As I write, the days are getting slightly longer, although we are in the grip of storms and torrential rain. I always seem to start my editorials with a comment on the weather. Let me turn to something we have more control over: advocating for a group of vulnerable people in communities who experience inequalities in health; people with learning disabilities. This shameful inequality, right on our doorstep, has been ignored for far too long and at last the government is acknowledging the need to act.

There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK and the vast majority are adults living in community settings (Parkin, 2023). Learning disabilities tend to be classed as mild, moderate or severe to describe the impact on individuals' lives. However, all people with learning disabilities experience significantly reduced ability to understand new and complex information, and learn new skills, leading to a reduced ability to cope independently. Note that learning disabilities are not synonymous with autism. This is an important distinction when assessing and responding to an individual's needs. Although some people with a learning disability are also autistic, many people with autism have no difficulty with learning at all; their needs when encountering healthcare will be quite different.

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