Learning disability support workers call for more information on side effects of psychotropic medications

Antipsychotic overprescribing is common in people with learning disabilities who have no record of severe mental illness.

Studies have suggested that anti-psychotic medications comprise between 30–50% of all psychotropics prescribed for people with learning disabilities, often prescribed for people with challenging behaviours with no diagnosis of mental illness. Reviews of their use have suggested however that there is no strong evidence supporting the anti-aggressive properties of anti-psychotics.

This study in Australia was interested to look at the knowledge of these medications, their effects and side effects, amongst support workers in learning disability services.

The authors suggest that support workers in Australia receive limited education and training around medication, and therefore may miss important information about its effects on the people they support.

They carried out a survey of support workers about their education and training needs around the use of psychotropic medications.

What they found was that the majority of support workers reported they had good support from co-workers and supervisors. They also reported however that they needed more specific information about the side effects of psychotropic medication. They were also asking for information about alternative treatments that did not use such medications.

The authors suggest that organisations support people with learning disabilities who are taking psychotropic medications need to look for ways to better support the support workers to enable a reduction in the use of such medications and to improve the quality of the support provided.

Disability support workers’ knowledge and education needs about psychotropic medication, Donley M et al., in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40: 286–291.


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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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