Executive summary for professionals

STANDARDS OF PRACTICE FOR PHYSIOTHERAPISTS working with adults with a learning disability

Executive summary outlining the role and standards of practice for specialist learning disability physiotherapists. 


Definition of Specialist Learning Disability Physiotherapists: 

"Learning disability physiotherapists provide specialist assessment, treatment and management to adults with a learning disability whose needs cannot be successfully met by mainstream services, even when reasonable adjustments are  made. Physiotherapists will work in collaboration with the person, their network of care, mainstream health services, and the multidisciplinary team to enhance, optimise and maintain the person’s physical presentation, function and quality of life."

Adults with a learning disability experience poorer health than the general population. They have a shorter life expectancy and are at greater risk of premature death.Adults with a learning disability have the same rights to access mainstream health services as the general population but they regularly receive inadequate health care.

All public services, including the health sector, have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to facilitate positive access and outcomes. Most adults with a learning disability will be able to access mainstream services with reasonable adjustments. However, some adults will require adjustments that go beyond what is reasonable and possible for mainstream services and will require access to specialist learning disability services.

Specialist Learning disability physiotherapists make the adjustments required to provide successful physiotherapy to adults with a learning disability that go beyond what is reasonable and possible for mainstream services. This makes physiotherapists an essential part of the community learning disability team and critical to meeting the health and physiotherapy needs of adults with a learning disability. Either, through supporting positive access to and responses from mainstream physiotherapy and relevant health services; or by providing direct assessment, treatment and management.

The standards of practice aim to improve and standardise the delivery, development and commissioning of specialist physiotherapy to adults with a learning disability across the United Kingdom. The standards of practice are systematically developed statements that were derived through analysis of the available evidence and the expert opinion of experienced specialist learning disability physiotherapists by:

  • Enhancing everyday clinical practice through supporting clinical reasoning and evidence based arguments.
  • Providing support and evidence for specialist learning disability physiotherapists to influence service leads, managers and commissioners to improve and shape the delivery of services across the UK.
  • Raising the awareness of the role of the specialist learning disability physiotherapist to commissioners, service managers, the multidisciplinary team and mainstream health and social care professionals.
  • Providing the tools to implement the standards of practice locally.

There is widespread evidence and opinion that specialist learning disability physiotherapy has a positive impact on the health outcomes; quality of care; and experiences of adults with a learning disability and their care network, as well as reducing the cost for health and social care. To deliver these outcomes it is essential that community learning disability teams are appropriately resourced and staffed to ensure that adults with a learning disability are accessing and receiving the specialist physiotherapy they require.

Sarah Bruce, Lead Clinician Physiotherapist and David Standley, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist

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