Opinion

National scandal of premature deaths

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Academics at the University of Bristol have found that women with learning disabilities die, on average, 20 years sooner than women in the general population. For men the figure is 13 years.

Overall, 22% of people with learning disabilities were under 50 when they died, compared with 9% in the general population.

Aren’t those figures staggering? Shocking? Unacceptable?

I was at a conference at Kingston University in 2014 when Professor Sheila Hollins - that’s Baroness Hollins, the psychiatrist and lifelong supporter of the rights of people with learning disabilities - put the numbers into context.

She said there are around 1,000 avoidable deaths every year among adults and children with learning disabilities: so that’s another 1,000 since the figures were published in the Confidential Inquiry into the Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities, because nothing has been done about it since.

The Mid Staffs trust is being closed following the inquiry into the scandal of additional unexpected deaths among its patients.

I’m wondering why the CIPOLD report has not triggered a similar reaction from those in power. Your guess is as good as mine.

By the way, the conference was ‘Positive Choices’, the annual conference for nursing students who are studying to become learning disability nurses.

It’s called Positive Choices because the students have all made a positive choice to work with people with learning disabilities.

The conference is unique because it is put together by a small band of nursing lecturers who, year after year, manage to scrape together enough funds so that students, who come from all over the UK and Ireland, do not have to pay to attend.

It’s always a great conference because the students and everyone else who attends are determined to learn together and to have a good time.

Hats off to the organisers who always manage to put on a good show.

And hats off to the students who, in the long term, are the ones who could make a difference to the life expectancy of people with learning disabilities.

About the author

Colin Parish is editor of Learning Disability Practice and Mental Health Practice, both published by RCNi
@editorLDPandMHP