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Division of Clinical Psychology

People with learning disabilities are still being discriminated against - fundamental change is required

22 February 2021 | by Division of Clinical Psychology

Reports on the experiences of individuals with learning disabilities (also known as intellectual disabilities) in England during the coronavirus pandemic have made for sobering reading.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) identified that, between January and November 2020, people with a learning disability had a statistically significantly higher rate of Covid mortality than those who do not, and this remained true even when factors such as age, residence type, pre-existing health conditions and socio-economic factors were taken into account.

The ONS concludes that it “cannot say with certainty what is driving the residual differences in risk”, but provides potential explanations, including “differential access to and pathways through the healthcare system”.

A second publication sheds further light on the far reaching effects of this disparity. The Guardian reported that people with learning disabilities are still being given ‘do not resuscitate’ orders, despite “widespread condemnation of the practice last year”.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is due to publish a report regarding this practice in the next few weeks.

For psychologists working with individuals with learning disabilities, however, the report is likely to highlight what we already know.

Despite decades of government papers promoting care of individuals in mainstream health services (e.g. Valuing People, Valuing People Now, Building the Right Support) we continue to see, hear and challenge stigma against individuals with learning disabilities and their families on a daily basis.

Although some of this may be due to poor practice by individual clinicians, wider initiatives appear to maintain the inequalities experienced by this group.

Decisions taken on Coronavirus vaccination priority is an uncomfortable example, as the majority of individuals with learning disability will receive vaccines later than healthy individuals aged 65 and over, despite their increased risk.

Members of the Faculty for People with Intellectual Disabilities, a subsection of the Division of Clinical Psychology within the British Psychological Society, attend fortnightly Coronavirus webinars with NHS England and other parties representing

individuals with learning disabilities, and have added our voices to the others calling for this group to be urgently prioritised for the vaccine.

Faculty members have raised further concerns for individuals with learning disabilities due to the pandemic.

In addition to the physical health concerns, on the ground we are seeing an increase in behaviours of concern and mental health difficulties, as individuals struggle to manage the psychological impact of their day-to-day activities stopping and the loss of vital social contacts.

We await the ‘Assuring Transformation’ report from NHS England, due this month, which will describe the impact of the pandemic on the commitment to get individuals with learning disability out of hospital and into the community.

However, like the CQC report earlier, we suspect we know what it will say - that too many individuals with learning disabilities remain in hospital and community services are not meeting their needs.

People with learning disabilities continue to be discriminated against, stigmatised and not afforded the same opportunities as their peers.

Fundamental change is required, both during this pandemic and beyond.

- Sophie Doswell

- Annette Schlosser


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