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NHS "neglects" learning disabled

Patients with learning disabilities are being treated unfairly by doctors and nurses and receiving poorer NHS care, a charity has claimed.

Health professionals have admitted they have seen colleagues discriminating against patients with learning disabilities. A total 37% of nurses and 46% of doctors believe the NHS provides a poorer quality of care to this group, according to Mencap.

From the poll of 1,084 health professionals, 33% of nurses and 45% of doctors have seen NHS patients receiving poorer care or being neglected.

Mencap's 2007 report, Death by Indifference, highlighted six cases of people with a learning disability who died unnecessarily in NHS hospitals.

Since then, the charity has received more "tragic accounts", it said.

All people with learning disabilities should receive equal treatment by law, with the NHS making "reasonable adjustments" where necessary.

But the poll found 35% of doctors and nurses received no training in how to make reasonable adjustments, which Mencap said can "mean the difference between life and death" for patients.

Many health professionals said they needed specific guidelines on how care and treatment should be adjusted.

Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said: "Healthcare professionals have recognised they need more support to get it right when treating people with a learning disability."

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "People with learning disabilities often experience poorer health and are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital.

"Their health needs can go unrecognised, which has an impact on both quality of life and life expectancy.

"Like all patients, people with learning disabilities should be fully supported and treated with dignity and respect."

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