Learning disabled children 11 times more likely to die prematurely, study finds

Children with learning disabilities are at least 11 times more likely to die prematurely compared with their peers, new research has found.

Deaths from causes which were considered treatable were also 16 times higher for children and young people with learning disabilities, according to the academic study.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf (pictured) has pledged the Scottish Government will use its findings to “inform our work on reducing health inequalities for people with learning disabilities”.

Ministers had commissioned the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory, based at the Glasgow University’s School of Health and Wellbeing, to undertake the research.

It found some of the more common causes of deaths amongst youngsters with learning disabilities included epilepsy, choking and respiratory infection.

The large-scale study compared Scottish Census 2011 data for 7,247 children with learning disabilities with that of 156,439 children without such conditions.

Researchers then linked data for these youngsters to the death register going up to 2020 to ascertain the number of deaths and the causes of these for both groups.

Dr Laura Hughes-Mccormack, who led the study, said afterwards that targeted improvements in care should be developed for those with learning disabilities.

She stated: “Children and young people with learning disabilities in Scotland are facing an 11-fold increased risk of premature death and these are often deaths from treatable or preventable illnesses such as chest infections or epilepsy.”

Jenny Whinnett, whose learning disabled son Craig died at the age of 21 from pneumonia, said: “Craig had many health challenges, most due to his body distortion that caused him to suffer respiratory failure.

“I found out too late about 24-hour postural care which could have extended his life by protecting his body shape and protecting him from respiratory illness.

“No-one should have their life shortened like Craig because their body shape isn’t protected.”

Mr Yousaf said: “Unfortunately we know that people with learning disabilities can face huge health inequalities and poorer health than the rest of the population.

“We commissioned the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory to undertake this research to help us understand the causes of death. We will use the findings to inform our work on reducing health inequalities for people with learning disabilities.”

The Health Secretary said previous research had led the Scottish Government to develop and introduce annual health checks for those with learning disabilities, adding that £2 million had been given to NHS boards to implement this.

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