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Patients With Learning Disabilities Are More At Risk In General Hospitals, Study Reveals
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 24, 2004

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND--Hospitals must pay more attention to the needs of patients with learning disabilities in order to reduce their risk of harm, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Public Safety Agency.

The study, entitled "Understanding the Patient Safety Issues for People with Learning Disabilities", was completed with the help of the self-advocacy group Speak Up!. "Learning disabilities" is the term used in the United Kingdom and much of the world, which closely relates to "mental retardation" in the U.S.

"This report gives us a much clearer understanding of the patient safety issues affecting people with learning disabilities," said Lord Philip Hunt, who chairs the NPSA.

The study identified five areas that put people with such disabilities at highest risk in hospitals:
1) Patients with learning disabilities might be at higher risk of sustaining injuries when being inappropriately restrained;
2) They may be more vulnerable to medical errors;
3) Swallowing difficulties (dysphasia) are more common in such patients, leading to respiratory tract infections, a leading cause of preventable deaths in this population;
4) Harm may result when the patients cannot understand information relating to their illness or treatment;
5) Access to treatment can be delayed because symptoms are not recognized early enough or because conditions are misdiagnosed.

The next step, according to Lord Hunt, will be to come up with practical, effective solutions to improve the safety and quality of health care to patients with learning disabilities.

"Our first focus will be on the patient safety of people with learning disabilities in general hospitals," Lord Hunt said. "We have met with frontline staff who have told us about existing good practice which we are evaluating for potential national solutions."

Some of those solutions may include designating nurse liaisons trained in the specific needs of people with such disabilities, along with a 'handy hints card' so hospital staff can better communicate with their patients.

Related:
"Understanding the patient safety issues for people with learning disabilities" (National Patient Safety Agency)

http://www.InclusionDaily.com/news/04/red/0224a.htm (PDF format -- requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Speaking Up!
http://www.speakingup.org

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