Improving Health and Care Outcomes: A better normal for those with Learning Disabilities

posted 29 October 2020 in category COVID-19 Disabilities

In a previous article, we considered how the response to COVID-19 is an opportunity to move from the ‘new normal’  to a ‘better normal’ for the future.1  As much of the world experiences a second spike in COVID-19 cases, it is easy to forget about this opportunity, but now more than ever it is essential that we focus our strategic efforts not just on the now, but on the future as well. 

The formal support that people with complex Learning Disabilities and their families need can be intensive and is often essential to manage day to day. The closures and restrictions imposed by the pandemic response left many people and families alone and helpless. At the same time, we saw communities, volunteers and councils come together for the most vulnerable in society. In this blog, we look at what we have learnt from our work with those who support people with Learning Disabilities and discuss the key opportunities to build a better future. 

We have the security blanket in pace to make radical changes to services 

The home environment alone cannot always provide the quality of life we would want for people with Learning Disabilities, with ‘day services’ an essential part of wellbeing and development for people. The first lockdown forced many of these services to close and led to innovative ways to keep people safe and well. While re-opening of services must be a priority, the development of alternative provision is an opportunity to transform services. Previously transitioning to new innovative services required a slow transition to keep services running as they transformed, we are now presented with an opportunity to re-open services to new and innovative models. 

We have learnt that things can be done differently 

The closure of physical spaces was met with an extraordinary response from council staff and communities to ensure that people with Learning Disabilities were cared for. This saw innovative approaches, capitalising on digital tools and taking a more personalised approach to understanding and supporting individuals.2 Not everything worked, and some changes will only be beneficial while movement restrictions are in place, but others will be valuable in the long term. We should work to identify the positive changes and take them forward long after the pandemic. 

We have connected with our communities differently 

Local authorities and community groups have worked tirelessly to communicate effectively with families. This has meant a greater reach than ever previously achieved. We have also seen communities step up to the challenge, for instance through community groups providing key welfare services to the most vulnerable and an army of volunteers to help in the efforts.  We have seen what empowered communities can do, and we must build on this, not just focussing on what they need now, but also what they want for the future. 

We must think of the future to deliver outcomes for people in the long term 

There are opportunities to build on the positive change and also risks for the future. Due to COVID-19, families supporting someone with Learning Disabilities are now facing more complex situations and need more support. We must innovate even further to deliver better outcomes in the long term.