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

One third of disabled people were waiting for NHS treatment over winter

Nearly a third (31%) of disabled people were persistently waiting for an NHS hospital appointment, test or to start treatment over the winter period, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

This compares to just 14% of the general population, highlighting that disabled people are being disproportionately affected by long waits for NHS treatment.

People experiencing moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms (25%), people who were economically inactive (23%), retired people (18%) and people over the age of 65 (19%) were also more likely to experience longer waits between November 2022 and February 2023.

People with learning disabilities more likely to die avoidably

Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of the learning disability charity Mencap, told i that the figures reveal “exactly how dire the situation is for disabled people trying to access healthcare”.

“Sadly, we know that people with a learning disability are more likely to die avoidably, and often decades younger, than the general population.

“Delays to care and treatment, and the extra barriers to accessing treatment even once they reach the front of the queue for an appointment, have long been flagged as a major factor in this disparity,” she said.

Disabled people more likely to experience food and energy insecurity

The report also looks at whether certain households were able to access enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle (known as food insecurity) and whether they were able to keep their homes warm throughout the winter months.

In total, 6% of disabled people persistently reported that they experienced food insecurity throughout winter, and this rose to 10% for people who were economically inactive (for reasons other than being retired) such as carers and students. This compares to 3% of the general population.

One in five (20%) disabled people also reported occasionally, hardly ever or never able to keep comfortably warm in their home, with 26% of those who are economically inactive (such as carers) reporting the same thing. This compares to 13% of the general population.

NHS waiting list could soon reach 7.3m

The survey included responses from just under 4,500 individuals randomly selected from those who had previously completed the Labour Market Survey or OPN survey.

The figures show a worrying trend, with generally more people reporting they are experiencing energy insecurity, food insecurity and long waits for hospital treatment compared to the previous period.

A recent analysis of NHS waiting times by the firm Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP) has found that the official number of people needing treatment will likely peak at more than 7.3 million in the coming weeks, but the truer number could be much higher.

For this reason, Mencap are now calling on the government to ensure that people with disabilities are prioritised for urgent care, as Ms O’Sullivan explains: “People with a learning disability have the right to access good-quality and timely care that meets their needs and helps support them to live happy and healthy lives.

“The Government must ensure people with a learning disability get their health needs met as a matter of urgency, to stop even more people being put at risk of dying avoidably and prematurely,” she said.

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