Learning Disability Awareness Week: A challenge to change

Jonathan Senker marks Learning Disability Awareness Week

Jonathan Senker, Chief Executive of VoiceAbility

 The timing of Learning Disability Awareness Week is poignant this year. It comes just one month after a succession of reports highlighting the need for urgent and considerable improvements to be made to the services provided for people with learning disabilities. The Children's Commissioner’s report showed children with learning disabilities are admitted unnecessarily to hospitals, often far from home. The CQC’s report showed a small minority of children and adults enduring the double isolation of being not only ‘stuck’ in hospital but also in locked secluded rooms. And the BBC's Panorama report showed adults suffering shocking and calculated cruelty.

We have the potential to respond so much better to people with learning disabilities.  Over the years, a strong evidence base has emerged showing how to enable people to live fulfilling lives by delivering support which is skilled, well-designed and kind. The NICE guidelines bring together this evidence and recommend practical steps that can help providers improve services for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. 

The NICE guidelines recommend:

  • A single lead commissioner be appointed in each locality, who has the expertise and remit to plan ahead and to integrate budgets and resources between local authorities and CCGs.
  • A focus on developing community-based specialist support for children and adults with learning disabilities whose behaviour can be challenging.
  • A named worker for each individual, to ensure effective co-ordination of support.
  • Information, advice and practical assistance to families to avoid the breakdown of caring relationships.

Since the NICE guidelines were written, I have been pleased to hear about positive work following the direction that they set out. This includes strengthening commissioning in Lincolnshire; the funding of an Intensive Support Function within the Community Learning Disability Service in Merseyside; and voluntary sector organisations working together to solutions that enable people to leave hospitals.

It’s almost forty years since another television broadcast, The Silent Minority, showed the appalling conditions in which very many people with learning disabilities lived. Huge progress has been made since then, but as the three reports last month showed, major change must still be made. I believe that the NICE guidelines can help with this. 

Wouldn’t it be great if, in the future, Learning Disability Awareness Week could be simply a celebration of the achievements and contributions of people with learning disabilities, safe in the knowledge that the battle for basic human rights, and for skilled support where needed, is behind us?

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