The sixth annual Learning from Lives and Deaths – People with a learning disability and autistic people (LeDeR) report has been published by King’s College London.

It has revealed that people with learning disabilities are still dying far younger than their non-disabled peers, with the average age of death for people with a learning disability being 62 years compared to 82.7 years in the general population.

Indeed, six in 10 people with a learning disability died before they were 65; this compares to just one in 10 people without a learning disability.

Half of deaths classified as “avoidable”

In total, 3,304 people with a learning disability died in 2021 with Covid-19 as the leading cause of death (responsible for 20% of deaths). Around three in 10 (28%) of those who were unvaccinated died from Covid-19 compared to 3.4% of those who were vaccinated. This means that those who were unvaccinated were nine times more likely to die of Covid than those who were vaccinated.

While deaths due to pneumonia are falling, diseases of the circulatory system, diseases of the respiratory system, cancers and diseases of the nervous system remain top causes of mortality.

Around half (49%) of all deaths in 2021 were classed as “avoidable” for people with a learning disability, compared to 22% of the general population.

Deaths were more likely to be classified as avoidable with increasing age, peaking in the middle-aged groups before decreasing again for those who died over the age of 65 years. In total, 8% of avoidable deaths were linked to cancer, 14% to hypertension, 17% to diabetes and 17% to respiratory conditions.

More men with a learning disability died in 2021 (60%) compared to women, and people of Black, Black British, African or Caribbean, mixed ethnic group and Asian or Asian British ethnicity died at a younger age in comparison to people of White ethnicity.

Around two thirds (64%) of people who died in 2021 had a DNACPR in place at the time of their death. These orders were not always respected, with reviewers judging that 60% were correctly followed, down from 78% in 2019.

Government must act urgently on the recommendations set out in the report

Despite these gaps, evidence of good care was identified in the report. Indeed, seven out of 0 reviews indicated evidence of good practice, and the reviewers continued to identify fewer problems in specific areas of care, year-on-year.

Nevertheless, Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said the report’s findings indicate that not enough has been done to “address the reasonable adjustments needed by people with a learning disability, the poor understanding of the Mental Capacity Act by healthcare professionals and the ongoing inappropriate use of Do Not Attempt Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation Orders (DNACPR).”

She said: “People with a learning disability are all too often forgotten and discriminated against and the LeDeR report sets out the devastating impact Covid has had, which is why it’s vital that they are included in the forthcoming autumn booster campaign.

“It also shows persistent shocking inequalities, with women with a learning disability dying 26 years younger than those in the general population, and men 22 years younger.

“It is essential now that the government, the NHS and the wider care sector take urgent action on the recommendations set out in the report. People with a learning disability have a right to access good quality and timely care that meets their needs and helps support them to live happy and healthy lives.”