More needs to be done to break down the barriers facing Derbyshire residents with a learning disability accessing quality healthcare, according to a local watchdog.

Healthwatch Derbyshire is an independent organisation representing the views of the Derbyshire public on health and social care services.

Healthwatch Derbyshire spoke to 171 people with learning disabilities across Derbyshire to capture, first-hand, how they felt about the service they received when visiting a GP, dentist or hospital appointment.

Those surveyed were aged from 16 to over 65 and lived across the county including Amber Valley, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derby City, Derbyshire Dales, Erewash, High Peak, North East Derbyshire and South Derbyshire.

The key findings revealed that, although there was extensive good practice across the county, simple changes would ensure that people with learning disabilities received the same quality of care as non-disabled people.

These included:

  • Health professionals slowing down and using simple language to explain things
  • Providing easy to read information as well as audio and visual announcements of appointments
  • Better understanding and awareness of learning disabilities on some acute wards
  • Consistent use of agreed ‘stop’ sign that patients can use when treatment is painful/uncomfortable
  • Lack of time available for additional explanation and conversation in GP appointments


One patient with a learning disability stated:  “When I have an emergency appointment, the doctors talk with medical words. They use long words, swivel their chair and go back to the computer. If my appointment is with my own doctor, he is good, will explain and will say, ‘Did you understand, do you want me to go over anything?’ I like my doctor, he tries to help me.”

Figures show that there is a higher than national average of people with learning disabilities living in Derbyshire – 15,250 which is just over 2% of the local population.

Karen Ritchie, CEO of Healthwatch Derbyshire, explained:  “Improving access to healthcare for people with a learning disability has been a priority in Derbyshire for a number of years.

“It is encouraging to see the progress that has been made in this area thanks to the hard work of health professionals.

“Innovations, such as the introduction of Specialist Learning Disability Nurses to Chesterfield Royal and Royal Derby hospitals, mean that many services are now better equipped to meet the needs of patients with a learning disability.

“However, there is still a long way to go before patients with a learning disability receive the same level of service as non-disabled patients.

“More needs to be done to raise awareness of the help and support that is available to people with a learning disability when it comes to accessing healthcare.

“It is also important that the providers of health services continue to adapt and make any necessary changes to services to ensure they are accessible to all.”


Healthcare providers have responded positively to recommendations made in the report by making various commitments to help improve access to services for people with a learning disability:

  • Chesterfield Royal Hospital are looking into the feasibility of allowing extra time for appointments for people who have a learning disability. They have already achieved this in the breast screening unit.
  • Royal Derby Hospital stated that they would continue to promote the value of the Learning Disability Specialist Nurse and ensure staff are reminded about the service.
  • Queens Hospital, Burton are currently reviewing how information about communication needs, in relation to a learning disability or sensory impairment are recorded, shared across the hospital and acted upon.
  • Derbyshire Health United plan to produce an up to date leaflet to inform and educate all clinical and non-clinical staff regarding healthcare issues for people with a learning disability.
  • Derbyshire Community Health Services have agreed a commitment to improve their ability to communicate with all people with learning disabilities and to support staff in developing their skills.
  • Hardwick Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), who responded on behalf of all the CCGs in Derbyshire, have pledged to pay particular attention to training and support given to staff in Community Hospitals.

These actions will be reviewed by Healthwatch Derbyshire in August 2016.

The full report ‘Access to Health Services for People with Learning Disabilities’, which includes the responses from healthcare providers, is available to view on Healthwatch Derbyshire website:



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