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NHS launches campaign to spot signs of constipation in people with learning disabilities

NHS England has today initiated an awareness campaign to prevent avoidable deaths in people with learning disabilities.

learning disabilities.

The campaign, which has been co-created by people with learning disabilities, launches today to help support people experiencing severe, and potentially life-threatening, constipation.

People with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer from constipation than the general public. Research carried out by LeDeR, an NHS funded service improvement programme for people with learning disabilities, has found that only 10% of the general population experience constipation, while up to 50% of people with a learning disability are affected.

This can cause serious complications, and in some cases, even death, according to Anne Worrall-Davies, interim national clinical director for learning disability and autism who said: ‘Reviews into the deaths of people with a learning disability have shown us that far too many people are unnecessarily developing serious health conditions, with some even dying from constipation.’

The LeDeR study also found that constipation was one of the 10 most frequently reported long-term health conditions among people with learning disabilities who died in 2022. More than two thirds of those whose deaths were reviewed were usually prescribed laxatives.

A new campaign from the NHS is hoping to change this and raise awareness of symptoms among those with learning disabilities. Resources have been created in partnership with the Down’s Syndrome Association, Mencap and Pathways Association.

The resources, which include animation, posters and leaflets, aim to: drive awareness of the seriousness of the condition, help people to recognise early signs, empower people to take action, and promote prevention of constipation.

Julian Hallett, services development manager at the Down’s Syndrome Association, said: ‘We know, from calls to our helpline, how important maintaining digestive and bowel health is for people who have Down’s syndrome.

‘If untreated, constipation can become far more serious or even life-threatening. The experience of developing these resources has been hugely positive, with groups of adults who have Down’s syndrome helping to shape them and giving their valuable lived-experience to ensure the awareness raising campaign is as effective as possible.’