Objective To identify the factors that promote and compromise the implementation of reasonably adjusted healthcare services for patients with intellectual disabilities in acute National Health Service (NHS) hospitals.
Design A mixed-methods study involving interviews, questionnaires and participant observation (July 2011–March 2013).
Setting Six acute NHS hospital trusts in England.
Methods Reasonable adjustments for people with intellectual disabilities were identified through the literature. Data were collected on implementation and staff understanding of these adjustments.
Results Data collected included staff questionnaires (n=990), staff interviews (n=68), interviews with adults with intellectual disabilities (n=33), questionnaires (n=88) and interviews (n=37) with carers of patients with intellectual disabilities, and expert panel discussions (n=42). Hospital strategies that supported implementation of reasonable adjustments did not reliably translate into consistent provision of such adjustments. Good practice often depended on the knowledge, understanding and flexibility of individual staff and teams, leading to the delivery of reasonable adjustments being haphazard throughout the organisation. Major barriers included: lack of effective systems for identifying and flagging patients with intellectual disabilities, lack of staff understanding of the reasonable adjustments that may be needed, lack of clear lines of responsibility and accountability for implementing reasonable adjustments, and lack of allocation of additional funding and resources. Key enablers were the Intellectual Disability Liaison Nurse and the ward manager.
Conclusions The evidence suggests that ward culture, staff attitudes and staff knowledge are crucial in ensuring that hospital services are accessible to vulnerable patients. The authors suggest that flagging the need for specific reasonable adjustments, rather than the vulnerable condition itself, may address some of the barriers. Further research is recommended that describes and quantifies the most frequently needed reasonable adjustments within the hospital pathways of vulnerable patient groups, and the most effective organisational infrastructure required to guarantee their use, together with resource implications.
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