Looking out for our service users with learning disabilities during the pandemic

The fourth in a series of stories we’ll be sharing to look back at the achievements of our staff and teams during the Covid 19 pandemic.

For our service users with learning disabilities, navigating the pandemic has been particularly challenging. For some, the sudden introduction of PPE, changes to routine, and trips to vaccination centres had the potential to be quite frightening. In early 2020, our Health Facilitation Team responded, putting much of their usual work on hold to begin campaigning tirelessly to improve the experiences of those with learning disabilities during the pandemic.

They created a suite of easy-read, accessible resources, to explain everything from why we must wear PPE, to how to test for Coronavirus, and handwashing advice. These invaluable resources were made available to download online from the Get Checked Out Leeds website and have been put to good use both within our region and further afield.

The team also successfully campaigned for those with learning disabilities to be offered a vaccine earlier, and advocated for reasonable adjustments to be made at vaccination centres to make them more suitable for patients with a learning disability. Among the changes, patients with learning disabilities were able to receive their vaccine in their car, rather than having to be taken through a vaccination hub, which could be daunting.

Julie Royle-Evatt, Strategic Health Facilitator within the Health Facilitation Team said: “Throughout, we’ve wanted people with learning disabilities to know that the NHS is still here for them.

“We wanted them to know that PPE is for protection, to keep them safe, and we wanted them to feel as comfortable as possible getting a vaccine.

“One of the things that changed as a result of our input was that patients and carers could be vaccinated together. This helped them to know what to expect and gave them reassurance that it wouldn’t hurt.”

The pandemic has also reinforced the importance of ‘hospital passports’, which are provided to patients with a learning disability in Leeds to enable them to share their individual needs with medical teams.

In addition to contact information, the passport contains details about any communication needs, medication, personal care needs, sleep patterns and the way a person will demonstrate that they are in pain.

Julie adds: “The passports are something that continue to be developed in partnership with our local hospital trust and they can be used by anyone with a learning disability who requires treatment in hospital.

“While these are not just for patients with Covid, they have been useful during the pandemic. They help to make sure that people receive the care that’s right for them, taking into account any reasonable adjustments.”

For more information about the work of our Health Facilitation Team, visit the Get Checked Out Leeds website.