People with learning disabilities are up to 30 TIMES more likely to die from Covid-19, PHE study finds
- Disabled young adults were 30 times more likely to die in their age group
- Officials said sharp disparity was due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes
- They added difficulties recognising symptoms also played a role
People with learning disabilities are up to 30 times more likely to die of coronavirus, according to a report by Public Health England.
Experts said those aged 18-34 had a Covid fatality rate of 36.3 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 1.2 per 100,000 in the general population.
They concluded people with disabilities were up to six times more likely to die if they caught Covid-19, but that this varied substantially between age groups.
The figures revealing how disabled people have been hit disproportionately hard by the virus were condemned as ‘damning’ by disabled rights charity Scope, which accused ministers of ‘forgetting’ about the group during the pandemic.
Officials blamed the stark disparity on higher rates of obesity and diabetes in disabled people, which increase their risk of death if they catch the virus.
They added difficulties recognising early symptoms and getting disabled people to follow social distancing, mask wearing and other measures also played a role.
People with disabilities were defined as those with a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, learn a new skill or be able to cope independently in adult life. This includes conditions such as Down’s syndrome, severe forms of dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, said the ‘deeply troubling’ figures mean health bosses must ‘do everything possible to prevent this happening again’.
Death rates from coronavirus for those with disabilities were six times higher than in the general population (shown in the graph above)
London recorded the most deaths in disabled people from coronavirus, followed by the Midlands and the South East (shown in graph)
RISK OF DEATH FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES BY AGE
AGE GROUPS INCLUDED IN STUDY
18 – 34
35 – 44
45 – 54
55 – 64
65 – 74
DEATH RATES IN DISABLED PEOPLE*
DEATH RATES IN NON-DISABLED*
*Fatality rates are shown as number of deaths per 100,000 people. The data is from March 21 to June 5 and was extracted from The English Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR)
Charities estimate there are around 1.5million people with a learning disability in the UK.
Compiling the number of deaths from between March and June, during the first wave of the pandemic, PHE officials found the fatality rate from coronavirus for people with learning difficulties was 451 deaths per 100,000 people.
But after the figures were adjusted for age and sex because not all deaths are registered on the two databases the team analysed, they estimated the actual rate could be as high as 692 per 100,000.
In England, the fatality rate across the whole population is 109 per 100,000 – meaning the difference is about six-fold.
The report, published today, used official death records from The English Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) and NHS England’s Covid-19 Patient Notification System (CPNS) to establish the stark figures.
Covid-19 accounted for 50 per cent of all deaths in disabled people between March and June, or 602 Covid-19 deaths compared to 542 deaths from other causes.
In those aged 18 to 34 there were 38 Covid-19 deaths, compared to 44 from other causes.
But in the over-75s there were 123 deaths from Covid-19, compared to 89 from other causes, because Covid-19 preys on the elderly.
The most deaths from the virus were recorded in people with disabilities were in those aged between 55 and 64, where there were 180 deaths compared to 141 from other causes.
Experts suggested this may be because people with Down’s syndrome and other conditions do not live as long as those in the general population, which would reduce deaths in older age groups.
A third of all deaths from Covid-19 in disabled people were also recorded in care homes, the report said.
But it added the homes were less likely to have had Covid-19 outbreaks than general care homes, suggesting that without control measures the fatality rate could have rocketed even higher.
It also revealed London had the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in disabled people, at 141, followed by the Midlands, at 113 and the South East, at 91, between March 21 and June 5 during the first wave of the pandemic.
The report did not consider deaths in disabled people in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
James Taylor, the executive director of strategy, impact and social change at Scope slammed the figures as a ‘damning result of disabled people being forgotten about and not adequately protected during this crisis’.
He told MailOnline: ‘This inequality cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must make the health of disabled people a top priority, and ensure that they do not bear the brunt of this pandemic.’
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, 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.
‘There are now regular tests in care homes to make sure cases of coronavirus can be quickly identified and isolated, even if people do not recognise the symptoms themselves.
‘But with cases developing across the country, it is essential to practice rigorous infection control if you are in contact with someone with a learning disability, whether or not they live in a care home.
‘Wash your hands, wear a mask and keep a safe distance. The fewer people you meet, the more you’ll stop the spread.’
Helen Whately, the minister of state for social care, added that a third of all those who died were living in residential care.
She said that to avoid further outbreaks the Government is also offering free PPE to care homes and said those living and working in them will be at the top of the list for a Covid-19 vaccine when one becomes available.
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