On 27 September 2021, the Coronavirus and Learning Study team in Wales hosted a third online event. The event involved a panel made up of representatives from the 5 partner organisations involved in the study along with Prof Debbie Forster from Cardiff University, author of the ‘Locked Out: Liberating Disabled People’s Lives and Rights in Wales beyond Covid-19’ report.
The panel included Zoe Richards, Learning Disability Wales; Joe Powell, All Wales People First; Josh Law, All Wales Forum of Parent Carers; Dr Steve Beyer, Cardiff University and Edward Oloidi, University of South Wales.
Members of the panel answered questions from attendees on a variety of issues including:
- future research
- inclusive education
- increasing the uptake of annual health checks
- shielding and vaccinations the mental health impact of the pandemic
- the role of commissioning in the development and provision of learning disability services.
Summary of discussions
Dr Steve Beyer said that the research team in Wales had interviewed the highest number of people in the UK study. Some issues identified in the study are still causing concern, including the significant drop in the number of people accessing annual health checks and people with a learning disability being excluded from attending day centres. It is important to find out what people with a learning disability need to enable them to move forward so it would be beneficial to follow up with participants in a year’s time to see how they are settling back into life post-pandemic.
Edward Oloidi added that the study had found it difficult to recruit participants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and suggested carrying out further research that includes this group.
Joe Powell outlined his view that the priority must now be to take action to ensure the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is properly implemented but that research could help determine how well this is being put into practice. Josh Law said that services need to be built around families and not the other way around.
More work around inclusive education for children with a learning disability is required. Learning Disability Wales are planning a conversation with parents around this issue to gather evidence for future work. Prof Debbie Foster noted that good legislation is passed in Wales but implementation is often poor and this results in more inequalities. A Ministerial Task Force has been set up to respond to the ‘Locked out’ report and will be focusing on the 5 main themes covered in the report. It is important that people’s voices are heard, and the Task Group wants to engage with as many people with lived experience as possible, including advocacy groups.
Increasing the uptake of annual health checks
Specialist learning disability services and GP surgeries must work together so that people are welcomed into the surgery and everyone gets the best results out of their interaction. However, issues with accessing annual health checks existed prior to the pandemic. Families advocate for their loved one and often feel that they must battle with the surgery to prove that their loved ones are eligible for the health checks. It is important that people with a learning disability are aware of their right to have an annual health check and that GPs send easy read information to people with a learning disability informing them of how to they can access annual health checks.
Shielding and vaccinations
A successful campaign in Wales ensured that people with a learning disability were pushed higher up the priority list for vaccinations. Study participants reported a huge increase in vaccine take up in July and August. Many people are still anxious about going out and engaging with the rest of the world. We need to engage with people who see themselves as medically vulnerable to support them to take part in community activities.
Impact of the pandemic on mental health
The study hopes to speak to participants next year to find out how they are settling back into life and what has changed for them. The All Wales Forum are involved in advisory groups looking at social isolation and loneliness. It is important to work with communities to develop solutions. Welsh Government needs to make it clear that it is safe for people go out and start re-engaging in community activities.
The role of commissioning in the development and provision of learning disability services
Good commissioning is very important. Commissioning Guidance was produced a few years ago and this needs to be promoted again across Wales.
In North Wales, people with a learning disability are involved in co-commissioning services. It is hoped that learning from this can be used in other areas.
People with a learning disability are often returning to day service provision with heightened anxiety and reduced mobility and this is a big problem that needs to be addressed.
The Welsh Government acknowledges there is a crisis in social care and they have commissioned a media campaign showcasing the benefits of working in the sector