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NHS toolkit launched to monitor over-prescribing in patients with learning disabilities

NHS England has launched new resources for prescribing professionals to help them review prescriptions for patients with learning disabilities and autism.

The report, Stopping over-medication of people with learning disabilities, estimates that “on an average day in England, between 30,000 and 35,000 adults with a learning disability are being prescribed an antipsychotic, an antidepressant or both without appropriate clinical indications (psychosis or affective/anxiety disorder)”.

The long-term effects of which includes significant weight gain, organ failure and death.

The report adds that multiple psychotropic drug use often starts at a specialist level, which is then passed onto primary care for long-term management.

However, research published last year found that these prescriptions are often repeated without adequate review.

The resources have been launched as part of a joint initiative between NHS England, Alistair Burt MP, minister of state for community and social care, five professional bodies and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF).

The five professional bodies include the Royal Colleges of Nursing, Psychiatrists and GPs, as well as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the British Psychological Society.

Annie Norman, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) professional lead for learning disabilities and criminal justice said: “The RCN has repeatedly highlighted that people with learning disabilities are still being failed by the health care system.

“It is simply not acceptable that people with a learning disability are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs without appropriate clinical justification.

“Learning Disability nurses are highly skilled nurses who care and treat people with complex mental and physical needs and can support people without automatically relying on medication by using a whole host of interventions.

“This pledge should be an opportunity for health and medical professionals to work more closely together to provide a more person centred approach to the care of people with learning disabilities, to give them a better quality of life.”

The advice in the report includes a flowchart to help healthcare workers review, reduce or stop the prescription of psychotropic drugs in people with a learning disability.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England's national medical director, said: “Reducing use of powerful drugs whenever we can is a good thing. We have managed this successfully in dementia; it's now time to bring similar benefits to patients who have a learning disability.”