Learning Disability Week: influencing a positive change in practice

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Learning Disability Week, hosted by Mencap, runs from 20 to 26 June. This year’s campaign theme is ‘Living Life with a Learning Disability.’ Highlighting how people with learning disabilities are reconnecting with their friends and communities. As well as to address the continuing issues many people still face after the end of covid restrictions, such as poor mental health and anxiety.

To mark Learning Disability Week, Justine Sharpe, a Safety and Learning Lead at NHS Resolution, tells about her experience and why learning disability is important in her work.

As the Safety and Learning Lead for the London area, Justine supports health providers and commissioners across this area to interpret themes, trends and learning from their patient claims to aid safety improvements. She also leads for mental health, learning disabilities and generates a number of learning insights and materials for other clinical disciplines to support knowledge transfer and opportunities for transformation.

Justine, please tell us about your background and how you ended up working in Safety and Learning at NHS Resolution

As long as I remember I have always been interested in improving the health and wellbeing outcomes of others and so trained as a dietitian, joining the NHS in 1998. I quickly progressed into more senior roles managing various clinical and therapy teams across acute, community and private healthcare so I could influence inclusive, equitable care at an organisational scale. I was interested in joining NHS Resolution because it provided an opportunity to be an agent of safety improvement change across a whole region. Supporting and managing the response to feedback, concerns and complaints has been integral in all my roles. This is most rewarding when I can prevent things escalating unnecessarily by sharing insights and highlighting best practice that may otherwise be missed. Unfortunately, I have observed all too often where healthcare has unintentionally failed those with disabilities.

What is your role at NHS Resolution now?

My role is about taking the learning directly from the claims back to both management and frontline clinical teams through our virtual and in-person education programme of activities as well as via health networks and engagement with health partners such as academic health science partners and Integrated Care Systems. We are in a unique position because of our data insights – which is also one of the key strands of our new strategy. We can support organisations like the CQC, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the NHS England and Improvement Safety team to include data insights and claims learning is incorporated into various standards, policy or best practice. There is great interest in our data and the personal stories that sit underneath.

Specifically, through legal mediation and the wider claims data we can help others identify risks, their causes, injuries and associated costs and thereby prompt direct safety system and patient pathway changes. Our work strengthens the evidence base for change. I am currently analysing over 100 claims where to identify whether there are patterns and trends in claims involving people with learning disabilities. Three key themes are delays in diagnosis, treatment and clinical over-shadowing (where treating clinician responds to the learning disability rather than the underlying condition). We intend to share findings later this year but first I will be working with our partners, patient representatives and other arms-length bodies to provide insights about this cohort of claims involving learning disabilities to agree how this can strengthen existing recommendations and wider policy to improve care for those with disabilities.

Learning Disability week – why it is important to you?

The pandemic has further highlighted the health care disparities and outcomes for those with disabilities. If my findings can influence a positive change in practice or prevent a death for even one family then it is worth it. However it is my ambition that working with senior leaders in the NHS will have a wider improvement impact so that existing improvement solutions like the roll-out of patient passports, digital flags on health records and consultant level oversight of care will become common place. As the Oliver McGowan training is adopted I believe incidents and claims will reduce. As a dietitian, it would be remiss not to highlight the difficulties with constipation and over-nutrition. There are some great resources to help care givers improve diets. Finally, I have a child with learning difficulties so I’ve got personal experience of liaising with, for example, schools and doctors to get the tailored support he needs.

Where does working for NHS Resolution bring most value to you?

I’m passionate about being a public servant. I like to make a positive difference to people’s lives and that’s the grain that’s run through all of my career in the last 24 years. Starting as a dietitian, I could really change people’s life and outcome by supporting them to make changes. 24 years later, spreading knowledge (through our claims data insights) comes power to change and improve.