Jan Tregelles MencapThe government has been heavily criticised by learning disability charity Mencap for its lack of progress in tackling the health inequalities that people with learning disabilities face.

This criticism came as the government published ‘Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities: Progress Update’, which outlined the progress that has been made since the Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities was published in March 2013.

The Confidential Inquiry found that people with learning disabilities on average die 16 years earlier than the general population, often from avoidable causes.

Progress made includes the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence working on three guidelines which relate to improving the care and support of people with learning disabilities. Although not focused on premature mortality specifically, they should support the improvement of long-term outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

In addition, Public Health England has been active in ensuring that people with learning disabilities have the same access to investigations and treatments as anyone else. It has produced leaflets specifically designed with and for people with learning disabilities, which explain the invitation and screening process for breast cancer, bowel cancer and cervical screening programmes, and guidance for professionals on access to screening, and also on informed consent and best interests decision-making.

In his foreword to the report, Care Services Minister Norman Lamb said it is the government’s ambition to make the UK among the best nation states in Europe at reducing premature and avoidable deaths. “Learning disabilities indicators are in each of the Outcomes Frameworks for the NHS, public health and social care, and are the basis for holding the whole system to account.

“While encouraging progress has been made… much more still needs to be done to ensure people with learning disabilities have the same rights and access to the same health benefits as the rest of the population.”

Lack of progress 
But Jan Tregelles (pictured), chief executive of Mencap, said the report shows “an unacceptable lack of progress in tackling the life-threatening health inequalities people with a learning disability face in our NHS. 

“1,200 people with a learning disability die every year within our NHS due to inadequate care - that is three people a day. The Confidential Inquiry into deaths of people with a learning disability set out the changes needed to stop this scandal of avoidable deaths, but there has been an unacceptable lack of progress made in implementing many of the changes needed.”

“Even on areas where welcome progress has been made, such as in setting up a national mortality review, we see that government promises have already been broken, with the mortality review now not starting work until next summer at the earliest, when March had been promised.

“Over the last decade almost 100 deaths of people with a learning disability have been reported to Mencap by families. They feel poor quality care, lack of well trained staff and indifferent attitudes are to blame for their loved one’s death. 

“People with a learning disability and their families have waited too long for change. Mencap is calling for the Government to act immediately to fully implement all of the recommendations of the Confidential Inquiry and make sure measures are put in place to stop the needless deaths of people’s loved ones.”