Staff at St George’s who wanted to find out what coming to was like for people with learning disabilities have done the obvious thing. They’ve asked them.

St George’s have been working with a local organisation Generate, which supports people with learning disabilities, to try to make the hospital friendlier and easier to use.

Four people with learning disabilities advised St George’s by trying out different parts of the hospital services, including trying to find their way around, experiencing appointments and looking at written information (such as letters and leaflets).

The project was organised by St George’s Patient Information Manager Kirsty Glaysher. She explains:

“What the advisors told the hospital is very interesting – some of it is good but there are also areas that we can improve. Positive experiences included helpful staff and friendly nurses. On the other hand the advisors thought some of the hospital letters were confusing and sometimes people with disabilities felt ignored as their carer was spoken to instead of them.”

The advisors have made suggestions to improve the accessibility of the hospital.

“To let staff know about these, the hospital has commissioned Movable Feast Arts, with a generous grant from the Foundation of Nursing Studies. Movable Feast are a training and drama group experienced in raising awareness of issues facing people with learning disabilities”, Kirsty says.

Guides are now available for staff to help them put the advisors’ recommendations into practice. Tips include using “everyday” language as people with learning disabilities may not understand all the words we use in hospital and some phrases can be confusing.

Kirsty explains:

“If you say “take a seat” someone with autism may wonder where to. Instead, saying ‘please sit over there in one of those seats’ could make all the difference”.

Jo Giles of Generate adds:

“It’s been really refreshing to work closely with St George’s on this innovative project. It has been a great chance for the hospital to listen to people with learning disabilities and find out about the challenges they face in every day life. Not only that but they have employed people as Advisors. This is a chance to make some real improvements for local people with learning disabilities.”

The hospital hopes that this project will make the hospital easier to use not only for those with learning disabilities, but also for many other patients and visitors, including those with sensory impairments, communication difficulties, those who may have a limited understanding of English or simply those who are feeling very anxious.

The project recommendations that the hospital are now looking to implement are:

  • Integrating the Learning Disability register with the hospital computer system, so staff will know in advance of speaking to or meeting a patient that they may have special support needs.
  • Provide training sessions run by people with learning disabilities for staff (including as part of the nursing induction) to raise awareness of the needs of patients with learning disabilities.
  • Having Learning Disability Champions based in certain areas of the hospital such as A&E, Neurology and Maxillo-Facial departments. These areas can be more frequently used by people with learning disabilities, or can seem busy or frightening.

Sue Cooper, St George’s Deputy Director of Nursing said:

“This has been such an exciting opportunity. The performance by Movable Feast was really moving and eye-opening. We now need to make sure that we carry on making a difference for people with disabilities who usually need the same things as the rest of us by may just need a little extra support”.

Notes to editors

  1. For further information or further photos please contact Kirsty Glaysher, Patient Information Manager 020 8266 6128 or Daniel Pople, Communications Manager 020 8725 5151.
  2. A learning disability means that a person has a reduced ability to understand new or complex information, or to learn new skills and a reduced ability to cope independently. This starts before adulthood and has a lasting effect on development.
  3. A photograph from the learning disability project presentations accompanies this press release. Caption to read: “Training and drama group Moveable Feast present how access to hospital services could be improved for people with learning disabilities.