Data reveals ‘troubling’ impact of Covid on people with learning disabilities

iStock - Gary Radler

People with learning disabilities were four times more likely to die because of Covid-19 than the rest of the population, data has revealed.

The rate of Covid-19 deaths notified to the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) from 21 March to 5 June was 451 per 100,000 people with learning disabilities. However, adjusting this to allow for under-reporting suggested a rate of 692 per 100,000, which is 6.3 times the general population rate.

A Public Health England report, Deaths of people identified as having learning disabilities with COVID-19 in England in the Spring of 2020, examined data from the LeDeR and NHS England’s Covid-19 patient notification system, which records deaths in hospital settings.

It showed deaths were spread much more widely across the age spectrum among people with learning disabilities, with greater mortality rates in younger adults, compared to the general population. The death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the rate in the same age group without disabilities, researchers found.

Using Care Quality Commission data, which covered a shorter period – from 10 April to 15 May – Covid-19 accounted for 54% of deaths of adults with learning disabilities in residential care. This was slightly less than for people with learning disabilities generally, but more than in the wider population.

The report said: ‘It’s hard to comment on the scale of deaths in community social care because the numbers of people receiving care from providers which are likely to report their deaths is not clear.’

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said: ‘It is deeply troubling that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society suffered so much during the first wave of the pandemic. We must do everything possible to prevent this happening again.’

Prof Martin Green, Care England chief executive, said: ‘This damning report underscores the disproportionate effect Covid-19 has had on those with a learning disability. Care England has consistently highlighted to central government the need for priority to be given to supporting measures to aid preventing the spread of Covid-19 in care settings which support these individuals.

‘Although emerging systems to manage the virus are now being put in place, such as access to PPE and Covid-19 testing for staff and residents, we are immensely disappointed that such measures were not actioned sooner in order to safeguard some of society’s most vulnerable. There are many lessons to learn.’

Kathryn Smith, Social Care Institute for Excellence chief executive, said: ‘It is devastating to read about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people with learning disabilities. The pandemic has continued to highlight the long-standing inequalities in society and particularly for those people accessing social care.’

Helen Whately, Minister of State for Social Care, said she would be calling for a review of the findings.