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People with learning disabilities had higher death rate from COVID-19

By Agencies
November 16, 2020

A report from Public Health England, Deaths of people identified as having learning disabilities with COVID-19 in England in the Spring of 2020, has found that people with learning disabilities had higher death rates from COVID-19.

The report examined data from The English Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) and NHS England’s COVID-19 Patient Notification System (CPNS) and covers the period from the start of the pandemic to 5 June 2020. 

It found 451 per 100,000 people registered as having a learning disability died with COVID-19 between 21 March and 5 June, a death rate 4.1 times higher than the general population after adjusting for other factors such as age and sex.

But as not all deaths in people with learning disabilities are registered on these databases, researchers estimated the real rate may have been as high as 692 per 100,000, 6.3 times higher.

Deaths were also spread much more widely across the age spectrum among people with learning disabilities, with far greater mortality rates in younger adults, compared to the general population. The death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the rate in the same age group without disabilities, researchers found.

Among people with learning disabilities, the rate of COVID-19 deaths for adults in residential care was higher than the rates of COVID-19 deaths of adults with learning disabilities generally. This difference is likely in part to reflect the greater age and disability in people in residential care.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to have other physical health problems such as obesity and diabetes, and certain kinds of learning disability, such as Down’s syndrome, can make people more vulnerable to respiratory infections, which can increase their risk of dying from COVID-19.

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England, said: "It is deeply troubling that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society suffered so much during the first wave of the pandemic. We must do everything possible to prevent this happening again.

"There are now regular tests in care homes to make sure cases of coronavirus can be quickly identified and isolated, even if people do not recognise the symptoms themselves. But with cases developing across the country, it is essential to practice rigorous infection control if you are in contact with someone with a learning disability, whether or not they live in a care home.

"Wash your hands, wear a mask and keep a safe distance. The fewer people you meet, the more you’ll stop the spread."

Dan Scorer, Head of Policy at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Long before COVID, people with a learning disability were more likely to die avoidably and die younger. This data shows the devastating impact of the pandemic, with the COVID death rate of people with a learning disability estimated to be three to four times the rate in the general population. And shockingly, if you compare deaths looking at people of the same age and sex in the general population then the death rate could be as high as over six times the general population. The data also highlights the disproportionate impact on people with a learning disability from BAME backgrounds.

“The government has failed to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens. Decades of under investment in social care has left most people with a learning disability with no support to understand ever-changing guidance on staying safe and accessing testing. This – combined with the closure of the NHS for all but the most urgent care – has clearly had a devastating impact on people with a learning disability, and exacerbated already shocking levels of premature death and health inequalities. The forthcoming inquiry into the handling of the pandemic must look closely at why so many people with a learning disability died from COVID-19 and what should have been done differently."

* Read Deaths of people identified as having learning disabilities with COVID-19 in England in the Spring of 2020  here

* Easy Read version of the report  here

* Public Health England https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

* Mencap https://www.mencap.org.uk/

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