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12 October 2011, 05:00
Nurses who look after patients with learning disabilities have been visiting neighbouring hospitals in the Thames Valley to see how well they're doing and what can be improved.
The review took place after it was found some patients aren't getting the urgent care they need and often face difficulties with communication and anxiety.
Patients who can't read struggle with things like getting the information they need from appointment letters, choosing meals off menus and may need more time with doctors to have their operations explained to them.
It's the first time these peer reviews have been carried out across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Health trusts like the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust took part - with nurses looking at which practices work well and areas that can be improved.
The South Central Strategic Health Authority has told Heart 10,000 people with learning disabilities should start to notice an improvement in their care because of the review.
Julie Kerry is the authority's Associate Director of Learning Disabilities;
"The health needs of people with learning disabilities need to be understood by all hospital staff, from doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and healthcare assistants; to catering teams, porters and receptionists. 'Reasonable adjustments' need to be made so patients get the care they need and are kept safe.
"One of the things we hear a lot is 'we treat everyone the same' but people with learning disabilities need to be treated differently, for example needing more time with the doctor and information in easy read format."
The review found that using things like hospital passports - which show patients' likes and dislikes, picture menus and better training for staff helped people with learning disabilities.
But more help was needed for new mums to ensure when they leave hospital they have all the information they need on breastfeeding and accessing local services.
Staff also need to be told a patient has a learning disability and how their care should be adjusted.
"More work is still needed, but things are getting much better. Now we are working to make sure that the good practices we've identified are adopted in other hospitals.
"We found the review so useful that we are planning to do a second review in the spring, which will involve people with learning disabilities, families of patients and carers."