People with learning disabilities in England ‘have an eight times higher death rate than Covid’

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People with learning disabilities in England are eight times more likely to die from Covid than the general population, according to research that highlights a “hidden calamity” from the coronavirus crisis.

The study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Oxford and Public Health England found that the risks were particularly high for people with profound learning disabilities related to Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. In Covid patients with Down syndrome, for example, the risk of dying from the infection was 36 times higher than in the general population.

“It’s really austere. I was shocked by the increase in death rates among people with learning disabilities and in particular among people with Down syndrome, ”said Professor Hannah Kuper, Director of the International Evidence Center on disability at LSHTM.

Previous studies have highlighted the increased threat Covid poses to people with learning disabilities, but the latest study published in the British Medical Journal is the first to analyze hospitalization and death rates among people registered in the register of learning disabilities of general practitioners through the two great waves of infection in England. . It shows that people with learning disabilities are five times more likely to end up in the hospital after an infection.

The results are based on more than 17 million electronic NHS health records analyzed through the University of Oxford’s OpenSafely platform. Of 90,307 adults on the learning disability registry, 538 (0.6%) were admitted to hospital with Covid, and 222 (0.25%) were recorded as Covid-related deaths.

The reasons why people with learning disabilities are at such risk is not fully understood, but the main factors appear to be poorer treatment and access to health care throughout their lives. On average, people with learning disabilities die more than 20 years earlier than the general population.

Kuper said discrimination, exclusion and living in nursing homes likely added to the risk for people with learning disabilities, while people with Down syndrome may present additional biological risks such as as underlying heart disease and immune system dysfunction.

The findings underscore the importance of ensuring that people on the learning disability registry are given priority for vaccines, but Kuper said more measures are needed, including better disease prevention in nursing homes, more training for caregivers, and clearer information about Covid for those affected. learning disabilities.

Few studies have looked at the increased risk Covid poses to people with other disabilities, in part because there are no comprehensive registries like the one for learning disabilities. “It’s shocking what we find for learning disabilities and it shows that people with learning disabilities should be a priority for Covid vaccination, but it highlights that we don’t know much about people disabilities more generally who can be just as vulnerable, ”Kuper said. .

“With the arrival of Covid-19, families and specialist services knew that people with learning disabilities were particularly vulnerable but did not know how to protect them,” wrote Ken Courtenay of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Vivien Cooper of the Challenging Behavior Foundation in an accompaniment. editorial. “While the focus was on the elderly, whose death rates shocked the nation, a hidden calamity was also occurring among those with learning disabilities. “

They added that it is essential to understand the risks faced by people with learning disabilities and how best to protect them, writing: “People with learning disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. , including the right to good health and to be free from all harm. . ”

A spokesperson for the Down’s Syndrome Association said the organization has worked closely with researchers in the UK and around the world to quickly share information that will keep people safe, including “easy-to-find” resources. read”.

“We are currently urging the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization to recommend that young people aged 12 to 15 with Down syndrome also be vaccinated and look forward to any announcements,” they added.

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