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People with learning disabilities dying ‘too young and from preventable causes’

A new report found that people with a learning disability have higher levels of premature death compared with the rest of the population, because of disjointed care and poor communication

People with a learning disability have ‘higher levels of premature death compared with the rest of the population,’ according to a new report by the Nuffield Trust, a leading health think tank. It stated that 42% of deaths of people with a learning disability were classified as avoidable, compared with 22% of deaths for the general population.

‘It’s appalling that so many people with a learning disability are dying too young and from preventable causes, but it doesn't have to be this way,’ said Jessica Morris, fellow and co-author of the report.

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According to the Trust, a little over half of those with a learning disability who were eligible for bowel cancer screening had the test, compared with two-thirds of those eligible with no learning disability.

People with learning disabilities were also ‘more likely to be obese in their teenage years and young adulthood,’ the report said, with an average of 7.5% living with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis last year compared to 5.1% of people without a learning disability.

The Trust has called for immediate action to ‘ensure people with a learning disability have access to timely and effective healthcare, where care is well coordinated, and signs and symptoms of illness are picked up early’.

Responding to the report, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the Trust’s findings are a ‘damning indictment of the way health inequalities have been allowed to flourish’.

Jonathan Beebee, RCN’s professional lead in learning disabilities nursing said ‘learning disability nurses have a crucial role in supporting those with learning disabilities to receive care, both in hospitals and across community settings. But their numbers have fallen by over 42% in the last decade, leaving some of the most vulnerable without vital support and putting their health at risk.’

Mr Beebee supported the Nuffield Trust’s call for action and said the report ‘should act as a catalyst to invest in this vital part of the nursing workforce, and in doing so improve care for those who need it.’