Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge will lead a debate in Parliament this afternoon (4:30pm, Westminster Hall, 22nd October) on behalf of the Petitions Committee, entitled “prevent avoidable deaths by making autism/learning disability training mandatory“.

The petition now has over 51,000 signatures, and was started by Paula McGowan, the mother of Oliver McGowan, a young man with autism and a mild learning disability who died in hospital in 2016. She believes that his death could have been prevented if his doctors and nurses had received mandatory training.

Mr Zeichner will read out Paula McGowan’s story of what happened to Oliver and her family, and describe that “Oliver’s family firmly believe that better understanding of his autism could have prevented his death. Paula believes passionately that Oliver’s experiences should lead to change so that a lack of understanding doesn’t result in future deaths.

“There have been other cases like Oliver’s, and every young person who is autistic or has a learning disability who dies prematurely, is a tragedy that we should be able to avoid. When Connor Sparrowhawk, or LB as he is known, passed away in Slade House in Oxford, his mother called for “An effective demonstration by the NHS to making provision for learning disabled people a complete and integral part of the health and care services provided rather than add on, ad hoc and (easily ignored) specialist provision”.  There’s been a high profile case in the media this week about Bethany, age 17, who has autism and extreme anxiety, and has been locked in a seclusion room for almost two years.“

“Just last week, I met with a local volunteer-led group, Caring for Cambridgeshire’s Homeless, who have taken it upon themselves to help the growing number of homeless people in Cambridge. That evening I was introduced to a 21 year old man with autism and learning disabilities who is living on the streets. His safe place? Behind a wheelie bin, at the back of a shop. While volunteer interventions are a lifeline for this young man, he should be getting professional medical support from those trained to understand his needs.“

“There are wider issues too. This weekend I attended the excellent Volunteer for Cambridge event organised by the City Council and volunteer services where I met Heather Lord from Cambridgeshire Health Watch and Tara Forkin from Cambridgeshire Deaf Association. Tara told me, through the signer, about the experiences of deaf people in the health system – they too find that treatment is administered to them that they find baffling and frightening, too often with no-one finding a way to listen to them. As Heather rightly told me, twenty five years after the Disability Discrimination Act battle that some of us still remember, why are people still having to fight this battle? Why has it not yet been won?“

Mr Zeichner will also touch on the pressures in the NHS, saying that “ Since the Coalition Government came in in 2010, specialist areas such as learning disability and mental health nursing, have been the worst hit by the wider staffing crisis, struggling to recruit as mature students are likely to choose these specialties. The RCN reports that there are 40.5% fewer learning disability nurses today, in comparison with 2010.  The current huge workforce pressure risks poorer care for learning disabled people, and a commitment from the Government to encourage students into learning disability nursing could improve standards of care, and patient safety.“

Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, comments: “This is a hugely important topic in Cambridge and across the country. It feels like common sense to me. We must improve access to healthcare for autistic people and those with learning disabilities, and mandatory training for NHS workers will help this cause, by equipping staff with the knowledge that they need to tailor care to needs.“

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