A new report from NHS Providers has called for immediate action to tackle stigma and the historic underfunding of services for people with learning disabilities and autism.

The report “Getting it right for everyone: meeting the needs of people with a learning disability and autistic people in NHS services” reveals that the ‘longstanding inequity in the development, commissioning and delivery of these services’ has resulted in the harmed health and wellbeing of those with learning disabilities or Autism.  The report demonstrates that these effects have resulted in reduced life expectancy and, in extreme cases, increased risk of abuse for these groups.

Commenting on the findings, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, repeated the argument that “people with a learning disability and autistic people have faced longstanding, profound inequity in the care and support they receive.”

The report shines a light on the fact that most learning disability and autism services are providing people with good care according to the Care Quality Commission. In some instances, services were rated as outstanding.

The report highlights a significant increase in the proportion of wards in the independent sector that have been rated inadequate for their care over the last nine months. To emphasise this point, the report draws on recent examples of poor quality care and abuse, including the treatment of people at Whorlton Hall and Winterbourne View.  These cases highlight that progress has been ‘unacceptably slow’ in improving the availability of consistently high-quality care for these groups of service users across all settings.

The findings are based on interviews with the leaders of seven trusts in the NHS who are providing good or outstanding care.

The report sets out in detail the common themes behind high-quality care, offering detailed case studies of how each of these seven trusts succeeded. They include:

  • working in collaboration with service users and people with lived experience to plan and, in some cases, deliver services
  • ensuring care is holistic, taking into account physical health needs as well as people’s wider personal, social and employment needs
  • services delivered by skilled staff from a range of disciplines with the right values and behaviours
  •  a collaborative approach by teams within trusts and with local system partners including commissioners, social care and housing providers

The report calls for immediate action to address ‘historical inequalities’ for people with learning disabilities and autism within the NHS and to improve access to high-quality care and support. This should include:

  • immediate action to tackle the stigma associated with learning disabilities and autism
  • more transparent funding for the sector to ensure the money reaches frontline services that need it most
  • sustainable levels of funding across health, social care and wider public services including high-quality housing where people want to live
  • promotion of careers in the sector and support for training and recruitment
  • support for providers to develop new ways of providing more care closer to home in partnership with service users and experts by experience

Ms Cordery continued, adding: “We need to see a change of mindset, to raise ambitions and deliver genuine and lasting change.”