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People with Learning Disabilities and Autism

Volume 701: debated on Tuesday 19 October 2021

3. What steps the Government is taking to improve health outcomes for people with learning disabilities and autism. (903650)

I thank my hon. Friend for her work as the Minister for Care and particularly for starting the work on the Oliver McGowan mandatory training. We are currently trialling the training to improve awareness and understanding of learning disability and autism for all health and care staff. The improvement of health outcomes for people with learning disability was also championed by our dear friend Sir David Amess; I shall think of him every day in this role and try my very best to live up to his expectations.

I warmly welcome the Minister to her role, which I know she will do with great care. Will she expand a little on the roll-out of the mandatory training for all health and care professionals working in learning disability and autism, which is, as she knows, named in honour of Oliver McGowan? Will she say when it is likely to be rolled out nationwide and what sort of funding will be attached to it? Will she also say when the annual GP health checks for people with learning disability or autism are likely to be rolled out throughout the country on a face-to-face basis post covid?

We have started the trials and they are well under way. We are using three trial providers. Our final evaluation report is due in spring 2022 and I would be very happy to share that with my hon. Friend. The outcomes of this trial and the evaluation will inform the plans for the roll-out across the country. I am working closely with Paula and Tom, Oliver McGowan’s parents, who, incidentally, grew up in the same place that I did—in fact, two streets away. They are key stakeholders and, obviously, we will make sure that we set out the detailed plans for roll-out as soon as possible. I thank my hon. Friend and Paula and Tom for all the work that they have done in this area; it really is remarkable and will make a massive difference. On the annual health checks for people with learning disabilities, the NHS has already met its target two years ahead of time for 75% of people on the GP learning disability register to receive an annual health check. I would urge anybody to come forward to make sure that they take advantage of that very important step.

The Government have not responded to the report of the Health and Social Care Committee on the treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities and that response is now well overdue. Sadly, there is continued evidence of ongoing abuse of people with learning disabilities and autistic people. I point the Minister to the deaths reported at Cawston Park. There was a terrible report on that recently. This needs immediate and assertive action. Autistic people and people with learning disabilities are often trapped in inappropriate units for six years on average. By delaying their response, the Government are demonstrating apathy with regard to the terrible treatment in places such as Cawston Park and other units. When will the Government respond and act?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns; it simply is not good enough. The events at Cawston Park—my first response as a Minister to an Adjournment debate was on that subject—were unbelievable and deeply traumatic. My deepest condolences are with the families of Ben, Joanna and Jon. I have committed to meeting with the families at the earliest opportunity so that I can understand their experiences directly. This is currently being arranged by officials and the Norfolk Safeguarding Adults Board. The Department continues to work at pace through the delivery board of cross-Government and cross-system partners to drive progress on implementing the Building the Right Support national plan, which is ultimately the answer to have much better support in the community. We will publish an action plan, outlining all of the plans that we have, how we will improve outcomes and how we will enable people to live well in our communities.

First, let me welcome my hon. Friend to her position. As chair of the all-party group on learning disability, I look forward to working with her.

On the point that the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) raised, the Government have a plan to reduce the number of people in in-patient units—the assessment and treatment units—like the one at Winterbourne View, which delivered completely inappropriate treatment. When will that delivery plan be published? Her predecessor committed to doing it four months ago; she said that there was work to be done. Can my hon. Friend set out when it will be published so that we can press the Government on delivering those ambitious goals?

I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend. I have been along to the first board, although I have not yet chaired it. But we will be developing that action plan. I cannot commit to the date but I will let him know as soon as I can when we will publish the plan. We will be publishing a winter plan for the NHS, which will include lots of different support, in the next couple of weeks.

I thank the Minister for her response. Given recent statistics that show that one in 20 schoolchildren in Northern Ireland has an autism diagnosis, may I ask her what steps have been taken here on the mainland to ensure that children with learning disabilities or autism have guidance in their health journey and are never left overwhelmed without specialised support at those very necessary appointments?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right to identify this concern. Compared with the general population, people with learning disabilities are three times more likely to die from an avoidable medical cause of death. That is why these annual health checks to ensure that we get early diagnoses for these people are so important. That is why I am delighted that many people are coming forward and that the NHS is two years ahead of its plan here in England. Hopefully, others will follow that lead.