NHS doctors are to banned from using offensive language when describing people with learning disabilities, the Welfare News Service can reveal.

Many people reading this article could be forgiven for thinking such discriminatory and insulting language would already be banned, or even that this report is a late and tasteless April fools joke – it isn’t!

Having received an email from Bradford and District Disabled People’s Forum, we were shocked to hear that such language is not only still being used, but it is also regarded as totally ‘acceptable’ by some NHS doctors.

Members from Bradford People First, a user-led advocacy group, attended a local Clinical Governance meeting, where during a presentation a doctor showed a number of slides which included the words ‘retarded’, ‘morons’ and ‘subnormal’ when describing people with learning disabilities.

Members from Bradford People First approached the doctor conducting the presentation, who informed them that the language was regarded as ‘acceptable’ because it was included in the definition of disability provided by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) clarification of diseases.

Damian Marshall from Bradford People First said:

“If professionals are given permission to use such degrading words, this will encourage the public to also use those derogative words towards people with disabilities. This as I’m sure you are aware can be considered a hate crime, as those words can be found to be very upsetting and offensive for people with a learning disability”.

Mr Marshall wrote to MP Philip Davies who forwarded the letter to the conservative Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP.

Norman Lamb replied:

“I was very sorry to read that Damian Marshall was upset by the terms used to describe learning disabilities”.

He continues: “Generally, NHS clinicians use the tenth edition of the World Health Organisation’s International Clarification of Diseases (ICD-10) to clarify mental and behavioural disorders”.

“Public Health England has contacted the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which represents England with the World Health Organisation, to propose that the language should be altered to take account of the terms that are currently used to describe learning disabilities in English-speaking countries.

“This proposal has been accepted and in the eleventh edition of the Clarification (ICD-11), which will be published in 2017, terms such as ‘mental retardation’ will be removed.”

Mr Marshall said the definition of a disability used by the Department of Health (DoH) “is more appropriate” and using that definition “would be better for people with learning disabilities”.

Bradford and District Disabled People’s Forum (BDPF) described the response from minister Norman Lamb as a “big change for us all” and congratulated Bradford People First for their campaign.