How pharmacists can help people with learning disabilities

by Robbie Turner, RPS Director for England

Pharmacy teams in community, primary care and acute hospital settings see many people with learning disabilities.

You may not have attached that label to an individual, but you know that you need to use easy words and short sentences for this person, or take longer to show them how to take their medicines. You will know the people who have complex repeat prescriptions – or you will recognise the family member or support worker who hurries in to collect their medicines.

Pharmacists and their teams need to consider how to best communicate with this diverse group and make what are known as ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure equality of access to pharmacy services.

to help them feel confident in engaging with this diverse group and gives examples of reasonable adjustments.

Why is this important?
There are just over a million people with learning disabilities in England. They have both poorer health than others and worse access to healthcare. Only about one in four people with learning disabilities are identified as such in their GP practice registers.

What skills are needed?
Pharmacists’ skills – listening, explaining, advising, questioning – are highly relevant to the needs of people with learning disabilities. Many people living independently or with just a little support will benefit from advice about healthy lifestyles and remedies for common health problems. Some people take a variety of prescribed medicines; keeping these under review and advising on ways of remembering what to take (and when and how) can be very helpful. A small percentage of this population have more complex and significant physical and/or mental health problems that demand close multidisciplinary collaboration.

The guide, Pharmacy and people with learning disabilities, offers practical suggestions and examples to support pharmacists and their teams on these issues and is a very useful tool that complements the CPPE e-learning materials on the accessible information standard along with their learning disability hub. The guide also aims to inform people with learning disabilities, family carers and support staff about getting the best from their pharmacy teams, a win-win all round.

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