Report warns 1,200 people with learning disabilities dying prematurely every year

People with learning disabilities will die 15-20 years sooner on average than the general population, resulting in 1,200 premature deaths every year, a report has warned.

The University College London (UCL) Institute of Health Equity (IHE) said it was “staggering” that two in five (40%) people with learning disabilities are not identified in childhood.

Children with learning disabilities are at increased risk of mental health conditions, including depression, it said, with half of the increased risk of mental health difficulties attributable to poverty, poor housing, discrimination and bullying.

Households with children who have a disability are also twice as likely to be living in housing that is too cold in winter.

But it said many of early deaths of people with learning disabilities could be reduced through improved healthcare and preventative actions.

The report’s authors said their findings show the Government’s emphasis on “fairness” and fixing a “broken society” has in fact failed for hundreds of thousands of children with learning disabilities.

They said much of the Government action needed to improve life expectancy for people with disabilities is likely to reduce health inequalities for everyone.

They want to see action focus on the “social determinants of health”, particularly addressing poverty, poor housing, discrimination and bullying.

They are calling for measures including improving early years experiences and parenting support, which they said would reduce behavioural challenges, mental health problems and referrals to high-cost institutional care.

Increasing the number of employment programmes is also suggested, with an example given of Walgreens pharmacy chain in the US, which actively recruits people with learning disabilities in their distribution centres.

The company found that people with cognitive impairments are equally productive, have fewer accidents, and that, depending on site, staff turnover reduced by 20-50%.

The report also suggests improved early identification rates by improving information-sharing across all agencies and registers, and the setting up of friendship support groups for people with learning disabilities.

IHE director, Professor Sir Michael Marmot (pictured), said: “A staggering 40% of people with learning difficulties aren’t even diagnosed in childhood.

“This is an avoidable sign of a society failing to be fair and supportive to its most vulnerable members.

“This is a direct result of a political choice that destines this vulnerable group to experience some of the worst of what society has to offer: low incomes, no work, poor housing, social isolation and loneliness, bullying and abuse.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The reason NHS England chose to commission and fund this independent report was precisely to draw attention to the wide range of factors which need tackling if, as a society, we are to give everyone with a learning disability the opportunity to lead a long and fulfilling life.”

Download the report here:

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