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Why is there such bias in healthcare against people with learning disabilities?

The government’s own research on COVID-19 deaths reveals a shocking statistic
Bias

Government research shows that people with learning disabilities are up to six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population

If you agree that a progressive society looks after its weakest and least able to look after themselves then how progressive is the UK?

Government research shows that people with learning disabilities are up to six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population.

Those of

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Government research shows that people with learning disabilities are up to six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population

How it can work: a service user is given support by a St John Ambulance volunteer in the observation area after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
How it can work: a service user is given support by a St John Ambulance volunteer in the observation area after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Picture: Alamy

If you agree that ‘a progressive society looks after its weakest and least able to look after themselves’ then how progressive is the UK?

Government research shows that people with learning disabilities are up to six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population.

Those of us who work in healthcare know that health inequalities have always existed for people with learning disabilities and that COVID-19 is just another example.

‘If you are in a position of influence, you have a moral duty to focus on reducing variation in access or quality of services’

The pandemic has yet again highlighted inequality in lifespan, the disproportionate number of deaths in minority ethnic groups and the postcode lottery that dictates care experience outcomes.

COVID-19 has proved that insurmountable challenges can be overcome

A lack of ‘usable statistics’ about ethnicity referred to in the report suggests wider healthcare service bias which, in this instance, prevented the data analysis that could have informed any response to reduce inequality. The irony is not lost on me.

If we are to learn anything from COVID-19 it is to see that seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome if people choose to have a central vision, work collaboratively and transcend all barriers to deliver that vision.

Vaccination development and the international delivery programme have proved this.

If you are in a position of influence, you have a moral duty to focus on reducing variation in access or quality of services.

Support people with learning disabilities by developing more progressive pathways

This is going to mean developing pathways that can ‘reasonably adjust’ to support the person who takes a year of desensitisation visits to enable successful ‘dental treatment, (I’ve been there), or for whom the surgical need for anaesthetic is also used in the person’s best interests for a life-enhancing nail and hair cut (been there too), or for the person who won’t have the COVID-19 swab that passports them to their much-needed operation – which is happening a lot.

There are wider issues: improving social determinants of health; supporting healthy behaviours; greater partnership working with service users; and strategic development that spans traditional boundaries and addresses inequality.

Now these ideas are truly progressive.


Further information

Public Health England (2020) COVID-19: Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities


More articles by Wendy Johnson


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