People With Learning Difficulties Over-Medicated By NHS

 14th Dec 2015

Earlier this year, the NHS stated it was planning to take drastic measures to address the issue of people suffering from learning difficulties being prescribed inappropriate medication.

The Findings

It was discovered from a report issued by Public Health England as many as 35,000 adults suffering from a learning difficulty were being prescribed drugs such as antipsychotics and antidepressants (and in some cases both) without sound medical rationale.

The aforementioned drugs are purposefully designed for the treatment of severe medical conditions including major depressive disorders and psychosis, not for learning difficulties.

NHS England has proclaimed these drugs can be advantageous for less severe mental conditions when under regular review by a qualified practitioner, however, the findings suggest they are often utilised as a “chemical restraint” to sedate behaviour, rather than as a controlled treatment.

This issue first came to fruition following the abuse scandal at the Winterbourne View Hospital in South Gloucestershire, whereby an investigation ascertained there was an overuse of certain medications for many people with living learning difficulties and autism.

Additionally, three reports were commissioned by NHS England with the help of the Care Quality Commission and Public Health England which inferred there was a disproportionate amount of drugs being prescribed to people with learning conditions compared to the general population.


Dominic Slowie, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Learning Difficulties stated the issue was historical but the true extent of the problem was unknown prior to the recent reports and investigations.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has provided the following view on the matter: “There will not only be very few benefits to the individual but a strong likelihood of undesirable neurological and metabolic side-effects”.

These findings highlight how the need for quality monitoring in the healthcare sector is paramount and this is not only limited to the aforementioned issues. There needs to be regular reviews of processes and knowledge in the industry to ensure patients are provided with safe, and appropriate treatment at all times.

Doing so will reduce the chances of patients being subjected to the side effects of incorrect drug prescriptions as well as many other avoidable and potentially dangerous complications.


Encompass Dorset is a registered charity which provides specialist care and support to individuals with learning difficulties and people with enduring mental health needs.

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