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Higher COVID-19 death rate in people with learning disabilities ‘not surprising’

Leading nurse says respiratory conditions are leading cause of death among this patient group

Leading nurse says respiratory conditions are leading cause of death among this patient group

A leading learning disability nurse has said it is deeply saddening but ‘not surprising’ that people with learning disabilities had a higher death rate from COVID-19 than the general population.

RCN learning disability forum chair Jonathan Beebee was responding to a Public Health England (PHE) report that reveals 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 in England.

Respiratory conditions cited as leading cause of death

Leading nurse says respiratory conditions are leading cause of death among this patient group

RCN learning disability forum chair Jonathan Beebee. Picture: John Houlihan

A leading learning disability nurse has said it is deeply saddening but ‘not surprising’ that people with learning disabilities had a higher death rate from COVID-19 than the general population.

RCN learning disability forum chair Jonathan Beebee was responding to a Public Health England (PHE) report that reveals 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 in England.

Respiratory conditions cited as leading cause of death

Mr Beebee said: ‘The higher incidence of deaths among people with learning disabilities is deeply saddening and, unfortunately, not surprising.’

He added that people with learning disabilities live with a variety of long-term health conditions, and that the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review demonstrated that respiratory conditions are the leading cause of death among people with learning disabilities.

Mr Beebee said it was reassuring to see that people with Down’s Syndrome have been added to the list of people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, but added: ‘The findings of this report raise a question: why is it that all people with learning disabilities are not considered extremely vulnerable?’

Death rate among people with learning disabilities may be much higher than recorded

The deaths of people with learning disabilities in England are recorded in the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review and NHS England’s COVID-19 Patient Notification System, which records deaths in hospital settings.

However, PHE said that not all deaths in people with learning disabilities are registered with these systems.

As a result, the researchers estimate that the real rate of death among people with learning disabilities may have been as high as 692 per 100,000 people – 6.3 times higher than the general population in England.

The PHE report also found that the rate of death among people aged 18-34 years with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than among the same age group of people without learning disabilities.


Read the PHE report

Deaths of people identified as having learning disabilities with COVID-19 in England in the spring of 2020


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