First Steps Women’s Centre

In May this year, the Public Health Agency, in partnership with the Regional General Hospital Forum for Learning Disabilities, Health and Social Care Trusts, people with a learning disability and their carers, launched a Hospital Passport for people with a learning disability. It’s designed to enable the patient to be independent and as involved as possible in any decisions about their care while in hospital. Gerard McWilliams visited two hospitals to see how the passport is being received by staff.

The Hospital Passport is a booklet in an easy-read format and only takes about 10 minutes to complete. I’d normally ask my support worker to help me, but on this occasion I got a work colleague to assist.

It covers short questions ranging from how you wish to communicate with staff, whether by them speaking more slowly and repeating instructions, using symbols and pictures or through a support worker, depending on how severe the learning disability is.

It also asks about any medication you’re currently on, any conditions or allergies you have, and what makes you feel safe and happy. My initial impression was that, at A4 size, it’s not that easy to carry around.

I visited three departments in two hospitals. My first visit was to a reception desk in the Outpatients’ Department in one of the hospitals.  

When I produced the passport the staff member was obviously confused and showed it to a colleague, who seemed equally baffled. So I asked them if they had heard of the Hospital Passport scheme and they said no.

They were joined by another staff member, who said they’d read about the passport on the Trust website, but added that they didn’t think there had been enough information about it.

When we started to discuss the passport itself, one staff member felt it could be smaller in size, while another remarked that, nine times out of 10, a person with a learning disability would be accompanied by their co- or support worker.

I pointed out that some people live in supported or independent living accommodation and may wish to go to the hospital on their own, so the passport would be helpful to them.

It also saves having to repeat the same information as you move through the various departments. The staff wondered if a similar system would be useful for mental ill health or other disabilities.

Next, I tried the A&E department in the same hospital. This time the person at the desk quickly handed back the passport and asked me to speak to the nurse in charge.

On my way, I met a student nurse, who said she knew exactly what the passport was as she’d been taught about it during her training.

She had a special interest in learning disability and said it was unlikely that other staff in the department would be familiar with the passport and how to use it.

At the second hospital I asked a few nurses if they knew about the Hospital Passport, but most didn’t. Only one nurse said she’d been given 30 minutes training on how to use it.

Although I only covered three areas in two different hospitals, I did feel that not enough information was being provided to Trust staff and that there should be clearer guidance and some training on how the passport system works.

For more information on the Hospital Passport visit

Have you used the Hospital Passport and, if so, did you find it useful?

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