The Nursing and Midwifery Council also stressed the need for ongoing and regular training – rather than one-off sessions – in its response to a government consultation.
“People with a learning disability and autistic people have the same right as anyone else to receive safe and effective health and care”
The consultation, which opened in February, proposes all health and care staff in England should get mandatory learning disabilities and autism training.
Under the proposals outlined by the Department of Health and Social Care, this would cover how learning disabilities and autism affect different individuals, the skills need to support and care for people, and relevant legislation.
The training should be developed and delivered in partnership with people with learning disabilities and autism, the consultation report noted.
In its response, the NMC acknowledged there can be a “fatal gap” in the knowledge of health and care professionals when it comes to the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism, and training was an important element of efforts to improve safety and people’s experience of health and care services.
This should cover key areas including communication and listening skills and equality legislation and highlight the importance of not making assumptions.
Crucially, the NMC said new training should seek to address and reduce the risk of “diagnostic overshadowing” where professionals without adequate knowledge and understanding “see the disability before the person” and assume their behaviour or symptoms are part of their disability rather than an underlying health condition.
The government has said training would be mandatory for all health and social care staff who speak to or work with people with a learning disability or autism, but the level of education would vary depending on their job role.
“We know the vital difference that health and care professionals make to the lives of people with learning disabilities”
The NMC said it agreed with this approach but also highlighted the need to ensure training was suitable for a variety of settings including care homes, schools and prisons as well as GP surgeries and hospitals.
In addition, it said the government should consider whether professionals should get protected learning time “in order to fully engage with the training”.
“We would also like to see plans for ongoing learning, with regular training opportunities rather than an isolated session,” said the consultation response.
Meanwhile, the regulator stressed the need to ensure “co-production and co-delivery” with people with learning disabilities and autism “is at the heart of the training”.
The NMC said it had recently hosted an event where people with learning disabilities were invited to share their experiences of healthcare.
“We heard how people miss opportunities to understand and hear them because ‘everyone is always rushing around’,” said the document.
“As we experienced during the event, meaningful learning starts with people and their stories, and this should be reflected in the training proposals,” it added.
The NMC said many elements of the proposed new training had already been incorporated into its new nursing standards, which had a stronger focus on learning disability and autism.
It said it wanted to see the same focus in the pre-registration education and training of all regulated professionals.
NMC chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe said there were still “too many heart-breaking stories” where people’s needs had not been recognised or acted on.
“Much needs to be done to improve this situation. From our work at the NMC, we know the vital difference that health and care professionals make to the lives of people with learning disabilities and autistic people when they are equipped with the right skills and training,” she said.
She added: “Through our own programme to reform nursing and midwifery education, we are already working to ensure that professionals across all health and care settings have the knowledge and understanding to support people with learning disabilities and autistic people to live longer, healthier and happier lives.”
The Department of Health and Social Care recently extended the consultation period to 26 April.