GPs better able to help those with intellectual disability in Garda custody after training

GPs better able to help those with intellectual disability in Garda custody after training

Report said the right to medical assistance was 'a key safeguard' for a person detained in Garda custody and that psychiatrists had a valuable role to play. Picture: Denis Minihane

GPs who undergo training on intellectual disabilities report a far greater understanding and ability to respond when people with such conditions are in Garda custody, research indicates.

A small study of GPs interested in working with gardaí found a significant improvement in their knowledge and capacity to act after receiving training from a team of academics in University of Limerick, University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin.

The researchers said the prevalence of severe mental illness in prisons is “four times” that of the general population and that one in three people screen positive for an intellectual disability.

The report, published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, said this overrepresentation “is equally manifested” in contacts with An Garda Síochána.

The study said a recent Garda Inspectorate review of Garda station custody risk assessments found that in a sample of 318 custody records, 24% noted “poor mental health or self-harm,” while 5% identified a “learning disability”.

It said these figures were likely to be underestimates.

The report said that, in contrast with England and Wales, where doctors attending police stations receive specialist training and qualifications to serve as forensic physicians, there was a paucity of formal training for GPs in Ireland.

The report said 14 GPs completed the pre-training evaluation, 11 attended the training and seven completed the post-training evaluation.

The results show that after completing training:

  • 71% of GPs said they felt confident at recognising a person with an intellectual disability (50% before training;
  • 100% said they understood the common difficulties faced by people with an intellectual disability in Garda custody (33%);
  • 100% said they now knew strategies to help them communicate with such people in Garda custody (0%);
  • 86% said they knew how to approach a person with an intellectual disability in crisis (0%);
  • 86% said they know the safeguards available to people with an intellectual disability in Garda custody (0%);
  • *100% said they were now confident about practices around the use of the Mental Health Act 2001 in respect of people in Garda custody (25%);
  • 71% said they were confident about how to assess a detainee’s fitness to be interviewed (8%) 

The report said the right to medical assistance was “a key safeguard” for a person detained in Garda custody and that psychiatrists had a valuable role to play, not just in working clinically with primary care, but also in training and advocacy.

The study was led by Professor Gautam Gulati at the School of Medicine at UL, assisted by colleagues from the college’s School of Law and by academics from the departments of psychiatry in UCC and Trinity College.

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