Study Shows Mental Health Patients Die Younger

The government could face a legal challenge over sub-standard treatment given by the NHS to people with learning disabilities and long-term mental health conditions, the Disability Rights Commission has warned. The commission conducted an 18-month investigation and says it found that people with learning disabilities and long-term mental health problems die five to 10 years younger on average than other citizens, often from preventable illnesses which were missed because routine checks were not carried out. The commission says the NHS could be in breach of the new disability equality duty, which comes into effect in December, unless the government takes action.

The commission’s study, which is the largest of its kind in the world, involving the examination of 8m health records, also found that:
– People with serious chronic mental health problems have higher rates of obesity, smoking, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and stroke than other people.
– People with learning disabilities have higher rates of obesity and respiratory disease.
– People with schizophrenia are almost twice as likely as other citizens to have bowel cancer.

The commission’s chairman, Bert Massie, said: “This investigation has revealed shocking levels of ill health among people with learning disabilities and people with mental health problems, yet their needs are often unmet or they face unnecessary barriers to accessing services. The acid test of a national health service is not whether it works for those who are generally healthy, but whether it benefits those with the greatest risk of poor health.

“Tackling health inequalities is high on the government agenda, yet there has been a deeply inadequate response from health services and government to target these groups which, in some cases, is compounded by a dangerously complacent attitude and a lazy fatalism that they ‘just do’ die younger. This is completely unacceptable.

“We need to see a radical change in the commissioning, targeting and delivery of health services in order to close this gap quickly,” Mr Massie added.

The commission found that disabled people and those with chronic mental health problems were less likely to get the checks given to other patients, such as obesity assessments for diabetes, blood pressure checks for those who have had a stroke and routine cervical and breast cancer screening. Sometimes their physical health problems were assumed to be part of their mental health condition.

Over 50% of respondents said they had difficulties getting appointments with their GPs.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said it was “extremely worrying” that people were not getting the healthcare they needed.