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Human rights lawyer welcomes proposed national review of deaths of learning disabled people

National survey of deaths of people with learning disabilities hopes to reduce premature mortality rates

Learning disabled adult woman

19 June 2015

In a bid to reduce the premature death rates of people with learning disabilities NHS England, the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) and the University of Bristol have announced the world’s first national programme to review these death rates.

Human rights lawyer Merry Varney has welcomed the review as ‘over-due’ but important in reducing unnecessary deaths.  

The Confidential Inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities found that 37% of the deaths of people with learning disabilities between 2010 and 2012 were avoidable, shocking figures that reflect the inequality in the level of care and treatment that many learning disabled people receive.

It concluded that many deaths could have been avoided if reasonable adjustments had been made to make sure that the needs of people with learning disabilities had been identified and communicated to health staff.

The establishment of a national mortality review programme for people with learning disabilities was one of the 18 key recommendations of the Confidential inquiry.

The three year project will be led by the University of Bristol’s Norah Fry Research Centre and the case reviews will inform health and social care staff on how to avoid contributory factors that lead to premature deaths amongst the learning disabled.    

The review is part of NHS England’s programme to ensure that learning disabled people get the support and appropriate level of services they need.  The review programme will work with other agencies including the Learning Disability Public Health Observatory and the Transforming Care (Winterbourne View) Improvement Programme to reduce such health inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.

Leigh Day has represented a number of families whose learning disabled relatives have died after receiving negligent or sub-standard care in hospital and has supported Mencap’s Death by indifference campaign for many years.  

Merry Varney and her team also act for learning disabled adults who want to challenge decisions about access to healthcare and local services.

They have been successful in securing appropriate treatment and care for learning disabled clients which has allowed them to remain in their local communities and maintain their independence.  

In the sad cases where the team have been involved in Inquest proceedings, it has been possible to pursue claims arising out of the circumstances of these deaths and obtain robust Coronial reports with recommendations to prevent future deaths.

Human rights lawyer from Leigh Day Merry Varney said:

“Patients with learning disabilities sadly continue to have considerably worse health outcomes than patients without a learning disability.

“Despite extensive campaigning by Mencap and publication of damning Ombudsman reports, the number of avoidable deaths of patients with a learning disability in 2013 was estimated at 1,200.

“We welcome this national review and hope that it will lead to real change and substantive action across the country, that brings an end to  the stark inequality that has no place in a modern NHS.”

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