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Equal Access, Equal Care

Guidance for Prison Healthcare Staff treating Patients with Learning Disabilities (2015)

Historically, many people with learning disabilities have received poor care. This has been highlighted by Mencap in numerous reports, for example ‘Death by Indifference’ (2007) and more recently following the Winterbourne View hospital expose by Panorama, in 2011, which highlighted systematic abuse and subsequent prosecutions. There is however, some great practice we know of and lots of superb examples where people who have a learning disability are getting the right healthcare, social care and general support.

Prisons are very challenging environments to work in and for those on the receiving end of services it can also be challenging. This is particularly so for those prisoners who have a learning disability. This guidance is a critical resource designed to help healthcare staff to support this group of people. Both people with learning disabilities and the offender population typically experience greater health inequalities and are less likely to access healthcare services. This means that offenders with learning disabilities, whilst in prison, are much more likely to require medical assistance whilst also being less able to navigate the prison healthcare system or communicate any problems they may be experiencing.

It is important that all prison staff understand how to deliver safe and effective support for the day-to-day needs of offenders with learning disabilities. Prison healthcare staff have an important role here, in supporting and educating officers with this.

This guidance will help healthcare staff to comply with legal duties towards offenders with learning disabilities. It will provide staff with a deeper understanding of the healthcare needs and issues faced by this group. We hope that this resource will enable your department to have more appropriate tools and adaptations at your disposal, establish stronger links with others and also to improve communication with prisoners under your care. Everyone deserves dignity, and this resource will help staff make small changes that can have a big impact upon the heath status of people who have a learning disability.