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People with learning disabilities or autism face 'double whammy' of setbacks, finds new study 

People with autism or learning disabilities can suffer a 'double whammy' of setbacks if they need mental health support, according to findings from a new study published today (8 November).
service user 

The study, commissioned by the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network (MHN), found that not only can people with learning disabilities or autism have higher mental health needs than the wider population, they also frequently find it more difficult to access the services they want or need.

Accommodating needs

The MHN has used the results of the research to produce a new briefing, launching at today's Mental Health Network annual conference and exhibition. Equally accessible?, calls on providers and commissioners of mental health services to better accommodate the mental health needs of people with autism or learning disabilities.

It suggests that:

  • health checks at GP surgeries include a mental health assessment as a matter of routine
  • appointment times and duration, and the format of inpatient services, be adjusted to better suit the needs of people with autism or a learning disability, including how they cope in unfamiliar environments
  • information about mental health services be made available in a variety of accessible formats, including large print, and easy read.

Reasonable adjustments

Interim director of the Mental Health Network, Paddy Cooney, said: "The law is already perfectly clear on this. Public sector bodies are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to make sure their services are as accessible and effective for people with any protected characteristic, including learning disabilities or autism.


"But our researchers found that while there are some excellent examples of where mental health services are helping people with a learning disability or autism, these are not yet common across England.

"It is the 21st century and with today's technology, we can share information and good practice in a split second. What we must do is make sure that the best practice, which currently exists in pockets of England,  becomes standard across the country.

"No matter where a person with autism or a learning disability lives - whether it's Cornwall or Cumbria - they need to know they are guaranteed the same level of access to mental health services as everyone else in their community."

Informed research

The research, conducted by the National Development Team for inclusion (NDTi), involved interviews and discussions with more than 100 service users, family carers and professionals, as well as a review of existing research. The NDTi's full report and the MHN briefing were both commissioned by the Department of Health.

NDTi researchers found instances of where local mental health services have implemented both major and minor adjustments in order to improve equal access, as well as areas where service users reported insufficient adjustments had been made.

Positive examples

Positive examples of adjustments include:

  • a specialist IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies) service for people with learning disabilities, in Greenwich, south east London
  • personal 'hospital books' for people with learning disabilities who use mental health services provided by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, providing inpatient teams with individualised information about how the service user prefers to communicate, their preferences and needs
  • specialist training for learning disability nurses at Ashfield Young Offenders' Institution in Bristol, on working with people with autism
  • people with learning disabilities elected to the shadow governing body of Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.

Equally accessible? is being launched at the Mental Health Network's annual conference in London, which will feature keynote speeches from care services minister Norman Lamb and NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar.

Find out more

Download Equally accessible? making mental health services more accessible for learning disabled or autistic people.  

Find out more about the Mental Health Network and what will be happening at today's annual conference.

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Georgie Agass
020 7799 8637

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