Unofficially the mantra on lockdown was ‘we are all in this together’, however official stats and a parliamentary report have revealed Covid-19 has disproportionately affected those with learning disabilities.
We could be forgiven if we thought that Covid-19 has affected us all equally- we have all in some way had to make sacrifices, and naturally a virus does not discriminate or distinguish between us. However, when we examine the data, and reflect on who have been the victims of this virus, a pattern emerges that shows that suffering during this pandemic has been very much unequal.
Figures released today by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that disabled people, while only making up 16% of the population according to the 2011 census, made up 6 in 10 deaths between March and July. And after adjusted for population density, socio-demographic, region and household characteristics the ONS study found that the mortality rate for disabled women were 2.4 times and disabled men 2 times higher than for non-disabled people.
These figures signal that the behind closed-door experiences of lockdown and of the pandemic has been for disabled people of an amplified disadvantage, both in access to necessary healthcare and day-to-day experience.
“Homes not hospitals”
The ONS data further compounds on reports earlier this year that people with learning disability and in care were unlikely to be prioritised for life-saving mechanical ventilation if they needed to be admitted to hospital.
“We have seen people being given inappropriate DNACPR [do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation] orders and received calls to our helpline from families unable to support loved ones in hospital due to visiting restrictions” said Jackie O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Communications, Advocacy and Activism at Mencap, a learning disability charity.
These themes of isolation, and instances of misused DNACPR orders were further expanded by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights who also today published a report into the Governments handling of the pandemic, which partly examined the detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities.
Detailed in the report were the: concerns of family members unable to visit young autistic and learning-disabled people, the increase in the use of restraints and solitary confinement, and the ‘unlawful’ detention of people in Assessment and Treatment Units.
Recommendations outlined of the Joint Committee’s report were that the use of DNACPR notices without the proper involvement of patients or people with an interest their welfare were unlawful, and cited previous reports into the detention of young people with autism or learning disabilities as both being unlawful, highlighted them and as far unanswered by the Government.
Commenting on today’s report, Ms. O’Sullivan said that “people with a learning disability are one group who have been hardest hit.” Adding that “some families are reporting that their loved ones are being subjected to increasing use of over-medication and solitary confinement, while others are being denied contact entirely.”
Although last week’s governmental injection of a further £546m into the Infection Control Fund was also welcomed by Ms. O’Sullivan. The Infection Control Fund being a Government grant to enable the adult social care sector to allow staff to work at only one care home and restrict transfer of the virus between care homes.
Overall the Government’s pandemic strategy for those with learning disabilities has been according to their online guidelines to protect those who may be vulnerable to the virus and as well as help them maintain independence.
‘More still needs to be done’
While the Joint Committee report was a step in the right direction for Ms. O’Sullivan who said that “the Government must urgently implement the recommendations in this report to protect those who are currently locked away, as well as not lose focus on developing the right support.”
But warned that damaging institutional treatment of disabled people still needs be addressed before a potential second wave, and that answers to issues of equality need to be prioritized, because “people deserve to live in homes not hospitals.”