Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Learning disability discrimination still affects NHS – report

People with learning disabilities are still dying needlessly in NHS hospitals because of institutional discrimination, according to a new report.

‘Death by indifference: 74 deaths and counting’, by learning disability charity Mencap, says that although some positive steps have been taken in the NHS in recent years, many health professionals still fail to provide adequate care to people with a learning disability. The report highlights the deaths of 74 people with a learning disability in NHS care over the past 10 years, which Mencap believes could have been avoided and are a direct result of institutional discrimination.

This report is a follow-up to the 2007 report ‘Death by indifference’ and looks at progress made since then. Despite improvement, the report says common errors are still made by healthcare professionals. These include failing to abide by disability discrimination law, ignoring crucial advice from families, failing to meet even basic care needs and not recognising pain and distress and delays in diagnosing and treating serious illness. Mencap believes that this is underpinned by an assumption by some healthcare professionals that people with a learning disability are not worth treating.

The report also shows there has been no systematic monitoring by the Department of Health to ensure that the health needs of people with a learning disability are being met. In particular, the report says the Department of Health is failing to meet many of the 10 key recommendation set out in the Government inquiry led by Sir Jonathan Michaels, ‘Healthcare for All’.

Mencap believes that in order for people with a learning disability to stop dying needlessly in the NHS it is essential that the ‘Healthcare for All’ recommendations are fully implemented.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said; “The report confirms that 5 years on from our landmark ‘Death by indifference’ report many parts of the NHS still do not understand how to treat people with a learning disability. At Mencap we continue to hear heartbreaking stories of unnecessary deaths and pain. Sadly we believe that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.” “Although some significant steps have been taken within the NHS, where progress has been made it has been patchy and inconsistent. If the Government doesn’t get to grips with this serious issue more people will die unnecessarily. As the NHS faces many new challenges, and undergoes many new changes, it is even more vital that the welfare of people with a learning disability is not forgotten.”

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