Good comms must be at the heart of learning disability care changes
Posted by: Alistair Clay | 17.11.15

The Government’s Transforming Care programme continues apace with the news that up to half of the 2,600 hospital beds for people with learning disabilities in England will close to move care into the community.

The changes will see the closure of some units altogether, including the last remaining NHS hospital for people with learning disabilities in England.

The news that ‘hospitals will be replaced with homes’, in the form of supported living, has been roundly welcomed by many in the sector as a move that is not before time.

Many commentators, including Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, argue that people with learning difficulties have been failed for too long.

For years these individuals have been saying that they would much rather live in their own homes but for many it is only now that that call has been answered.

Could poor communications and patient/service user advocacy be partly to blame for this historic inaction? I would argue yes. Without the pressure of a clear and loud voice change is often slow to materialise.

To ensure the same mistakes are not made in the future robust communications strategies and feedback systems must be put in place by the NHS, local authorities and providers to ensure that the views of service users are taken into account.

Here I would urge providers to be innovative and gather much more ‘real time’ data to monitor, evaluate and drive improvements.

Technology should play a pivotal role in giving a meaningful and impactful voice to service users.

Platforms such as WhatsApp allow for ongoing broadcasts to a closed user group so channels of direct communication are always open for advice, help and support.

Video messaging services such as Skype, FaceTime et al, also offer a vital platform to ensure individuals with learning disabilities are empowered and connected to the people and organisations who have a say in their day to day lives.

Of course giving someone a megaphone is just one part of the equation, views and opinions should also encourage action, but there is now a wonderful opportunity to give a voice to a group of people who have been denied for far too long.

Effective two-way communications will ensure community providers deliver support that is personalised to reflect preferences, aspirations and the choices of each individual.

Homes not hospitals should be as much about the change in the physical buildings and services as the rights and freedoms of the people who live in them – I would argue that the right to a voice is chief among them.