Learning disabilities

How to use this site

15 minutes before a consultation?

Read the Learning points from the Interactive learning which feature at the top of each of the Into practice pages.

Also have a look at the top tips from our experts:

• General Practitioner Dr Matt Hoghton gives his Tips for doctors
• Professor Baroness Hollins talks about 5 important things to remember
• Sinéad Gillespie talks about the importance of communication in caring for her son in Oliver’s story

During a consultation

  • Have a copy of our Jargon buster (pdf) ready to help communication with your patient.
  • Make a note of the addresses of websites (like www.easyhealth.org.uk) with accessible information that you can access with your patient or recommend they watch at home.

Have you got more time to explore the site?

  • Explore The issues and Into practice sections to learn about potential pitfalls and identify practical ways you can change your practice to avoid them.
  • Look at the Interactive learning session to see how these problems and solutions apply in context.
  • Watch the complete film of Wood for the trees without interruption and also interesting behind-the-scenes footage from the Interactive learning home page.

If you want to collect evidence that you’ve explored the site...

  • Work through the Interactive learning sessions 1-4 and explore the recommended sections at the end of each session.

  • Print out and fill in your certificate as you go along or record your thoughts in another document. Because there's no log in for the Interactive learning this unfortunately means the certificate won’t save your comments if you step off the page.

What you can expect to find on the site

This site is aimed at doctors who practise medicine in the UK. It aims to bring GMC guidance to life through a range of interactive multimedia resources, supported by focused and user-friendly written materials and links to supporting materials on other websites.

You will need to be able to watch and listen to videos to get the most out of the site, so we recommend that you turn the sound up on your computer before you begin.

The site is divided into 5 main sections, each with it's own icon and colour palette, to make it easier for you to differentiate between one and another:

  • Interactive learning - this section features 4 interactive sessions that provide doctors with the opportunity to test their knowledge by exploring the play in more detail. Clips from the play are interspersed with questions and reflective tasks that will help consider the issues in depth. 

  • The issues - the problems and challenges that face doctors are presented in this area of the site, which also includes excerpts from GMC guidance and videos with experts and advocates.

  • Patient perspectives - this section presents the thoughts and feelings of people with learning disabilities and their carers in their own words (text and video), so that doctors and other health professionals can see what people want and how they wish to be involved in their own healthcare.

  • Into practice - the solutions to the issues can be found in this part of the site, which includes excerpts from guidance, best practice and videos featuring experts and advocates.  

  • Resources - finally, the background information that has been used to create this site: links to guidance, best practice, reviews, reports, tools and various websites.

A word about terms and definitions

We have used the term ‘learning disabilities’ throughout the website but it is worth noting that the terms ‘learning difficulties’ and ‘intellectual disabilities’ are also in common usage.

There are various definitions of learning disability. A useful one is in The same as you? - a review of services for people with learning disabilities carried out by the Scottish Government:

Our definition (from The Same as you)


People with learning disabilities have a significant, lifelong condition that started before adulthood, that affected their development and which means they need help to:

  • understand information;
  • learn skills; and
  • cope independently.

People with learning disabilities should have a range of support and services to meet the following needs.

  • Everyday needs. For example, a place to live, security, social and personal relationships, leisure, recreation and work opportunities.
  • Extra needs because of their learning disability. For example, help to understand information, support to make decisions and plan, learn skills, help with communication, mobility or personal care.
  • Complex needs. For example, needs arising from both learning disability and from other difficulties such as physical and sensory impairment, mental health problems or behavioural difficulties.

For any of these needs the level of support will vary. A person with learning disabilities may need:

  • occasional or short-term support;
  • limited support, for example, only during periods of change or crisis;
  • regular long-term support, perhaps every day; or
  • constant and highly intensive support if they have complex or other needs which are related.

How to get more involved

We are keen to hear from users who have suggestions for relevant materials that they would like to see included on the site.

We are also very interested in your suggestions for improving the site and exploring ways in which the site can be promoted to hard to reach groups.

Please contact us at standards@gmc-uk.org and tell us what you think.


There are many individuals and organisations who we would like to thank for their inspiration, ideas and tireless efforts, without which this site would not have been possible. 

The play

The GMC commissioned the play, Wood for the Trees which was written by Susie McDonald, Director of Tender. The play draws on themes and issues in Mencap’s report Death by indifference (2007) and Healthcare for all (2008), Sir John Michaels report of the independent inquiry into access to healthcare for people with learning disabilities. It also draws on the experiences and expertise of people working in the field of learning disabilities.

Forum theatre events

The play was performed at six venues across the UK, to an invited audience of doctors; people with learning disabilities; their carers and support workers; other healthcare professionals and experts in the field of learning disabilities. The play was directed by Daniel Rachel who also facilitated the events. The cast was:

  • Sarah Gordy (supported by Jane Gordy) as ‘Marie’
  • Jessica Garratt as ‘Heather’
  • Tim Scragg as the doctors

We would like to thank all those who helped us host the events and generate interest for attendance at the events including Mencap, David Jones and Professor Rev. Bryan Vernon as well as those who took the time to attend.

The film

The play was then adapted for the screen by Rod Main, who directed the film. Additional cast members include Caroline Partridge and Peter Landi.

Contributors to the site

We are very grateful to all those who have been so generous with their time in helping us build this website. In particular, we were fortunate that the following people were happy to give us their time and expertise in the videos you will see on the site:

  • Dr Roger Banks, Vice President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Vice Chair of Academy Health Inequalities Forum
  • Jim Blair, Consultant Learning Disabilities Nurse and Senior Lecturer, St George's
  • Beverley Dawkins, National Officer for Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities, Mencap
  • Dr Matt Hoghton, GP and Clinical Champion for Learning Disabilities, Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Professor Baroness Sheila Hollins, Professor of Psychiatry of Learning Disability at St George’s, University of London
  • Geraldine McCluskey, Speech and Language Therapist
  • Mr Lloyd Page, Mencap
  • Dr Theodora Pepera, Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Guy’s Hospital

We're also grateful to our project partners and user group members, including:

  • The Rix Centre (www.rixcentre.org) - Gosia Kwiatkowska, Andy Minnion and Orson Nava
  • Minervation - Andre Tomlin and John Northfield
  • Sue Carmichael - National Lead for Health & People with Complex Needs, Valuing People Programme, DH England
  • Janet Cobb (www.jan-net.co.uk)
  • St George's team - Dr Paula Manners, Paul Adeline, Alice Thacker
  • Mencap - Beverley Dawkins, Patrick Olszowski, Lloyd Page, Estelle Bloom
  • Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists - Viki Baker, Kamini Gadhok, Dominique Lowenthal, Clare Moser, Sharon Woolf