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Your 22-bullet point guide to caring for patients with learning disabilities

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Mental capacity of patients to make decisions and give consent for treatment is an increasingly sensitive area. Staff in the GP practice should be trained in communication and care of people with learning disabilities, with the aim to provide care that is equal to that given to other patients.

In this blog post we bullet point the guidance given by the GMC, as an easy reference guide for the GP practice.

Communicate effectively

  • Show respect by talking to them, even if a carer is present.
  • Always ask permission before touching or approaching the patient.
  • Cut out the jargon, and explain what is happening and what you are going to do in plain English.
  • Establish how the patient will best receive and give information – various methods include mats, Beyond Words books, and visual aids.

Put the patient at ease

All patients react better when they are put at ease. People with learning disabilities are no different.

  • Be honest about pain or discomfort that will be felt, and reassure them about this and any side effects.
  • Ask them if they would like a carer, family member or friend present. These people can be incredible allies. Don't be shy about asking them to help you with an examination, instructing them where to touch and what to look for.
  • As with any other patient, ensure that you explain the pros and cons of any procedure as well as not having the procedure.

Always get consent

Before you carry out any examination or provide treatment, you must get consent from your patient. This can be difficult with patients who lack mental capacity. We've covered this topic in previous blog posts, such as "Make mental capacity your concern", but here's a brief refresher:

  • Capacity to make a decision should be assessed on a patient-by-patient, time-by-time basis.
  • If in doubt, take advice from nursing staff or carers that are involved in the patient's care, or from colleagues with relevant experience.
  • If you're still unsure, get legal advice.
  • Help the patient to understand the reasons for any treatment recommended.
  • Explain side effects and possible complications.
  • Discuss alternative treatments and also the option of no treatment.
  • Familiarise yourself with the GMC consent guidance.

Make adjustments to provide individual care

There will undoubtedly be some adjustments that you can and should make to ensure that your patients with learning disabilities have a positive healthcare experience, and have better health outcomes. These include:

  • Make extra time for consultations
  • Communicate effectively (see above)
  • Make information accessible in different formats
  • Adjust all communications so they can be easily understood
  • Send information in advance so your patient is prepared

Make sure everyone at the practice is skilled at dealing with people with learning disabilities

Many of your staff may never have had to deal with people with learning disabilities before. Training is vital to ensure that your employees have the skills needed:

  • Consider getting in touch with Mencap to arrange training
  • Arrange training on communication techniques
  • Reaffirm that the overriding question to ask yourself is, "What would I do for another patient?"

eSupplies Medical is a trading name of Williams Medical Supplies Ltd, a DCC business