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Awareness And Adjustments Are Key To Tackling Health Inequalities

Greater awareness of the health issues experienced by disabled people and the use of reasonable adjustments are vital if individuals are to have better health outcomes. These are among the good practice steps for health and care staff outlined in a new publication released today.

The VODG discussion paper, Tackling Health Inequalities, sets out what social care providers believe can help or hinder the health treatment of people supported.

The issue of health inequalities is a VODG priority. The publication follows a recent event on the issue as well as the re-launch of the learning disability health charter, which now includes dealing with over-medication.

There are over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in the UK. Disabled people seek more health care than people without a disability and have more unmet health needs but health promotion rarely targets people with disabilities. Health inequalities include the fact that men with a learning disability die 13 years sooner and women with a learning disability die 20 years sooner than people without learning disabilities. The issue of early and preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities have been the focus of two recent separate inquests into the deaths of Richard Handley and Anthony Dawson.

According to registered managers and frontline leaders that contributed to the paper, good practice in health for disabled people is localised, rather than consistent across the country.

Tackling Health Inequalities lists care providers’ most common successes in ensuring good health for the people they support, including:

  • improved monitoring of health and setting or achieving health goals, including collecting good health data and monitoring of health conditions
  • training for staff or people supported on health issues, including increasing staff confidence to raise important issues with health professionals
  • initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles, like diet, exercise and smoking.

Meanwhile, common challenges in relation to ensuring good health include:

  • staff and the people they support having a low awareness about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet and exercise
  • poor access to mainstream NHS community services.

Attitudes and practices that support positive health outcomes include reasonable adjustments, such as the use of interpreters or creating, “well being logs” enabling clear communication between patient, health staff and care staff. Equally vital is equipping staff with the knowledge to advocate for the people regarding their health, and to engage in equal conversations with health professionals. Collaborative relationships, record keeping and a willingness to engage in important conversations with people and families also result in better health outcomes.

Scott Watkin (Eye Care and vision Development Office at SeeAbility) and Fiona Ritchie (VODG Trustee and Managing Director for Mental Health and Learning Disability at Turning Point) said:

“Understanding that disabled people have much poorer health outcomes than other people is frankly not enough. It is about time we saw consistent action from everybody in the sector – NHS professionals, advocates, disabled people, providers of support and family carers to rally, take note, speak up and ensure people stop dying early and have a better quality of life through better health. VODG is spearheading this and calling all providers to take action.”

VODG chief executive Dr Rhidian Hughes said:

“VODG is determined to play its part in contributing to the health inequalities agenda. We will continue to bring organisations who share our commitment together to share good practice and to champion the rights of disabled people. It is shameful that disabled people have poorer health outcomes than the general population and good healthcare that contributes to improvement in people’s life expectancy must become the norm for all disabled people.”

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