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Poor hospital care could be causing premature deaths
Wednesday 07 November 2012
A new survey prompts concerns that poor hospital care is responsible for the premature deaths of people with a learning disability
People with a learning disability die younger than the rest of the population, according to interim figures from a major government survey. And critics claim hospitals must take some responsibility.
The second interim report of the Improving Health and Lives: Confidential Inquiry looks into 93 deaths of people with a learning disability from five Primary Care Trust areas in the south west of England. It suggests there is a death rate of 7.1 per 100,000 of the population, which is two to three times higher than expected.
Results also show that over a half of all deaths were from cardio-respiratory causes and half (49.5%) were unexpected 24 hours before they happened. Half of those who died were expected to live for at least another one to two years. Plus, 35% of people with a learning disability were under the age of 55 when they died compared with approximately 10% of the general population.
The confidential inquiry into around 240 deaths is due to publish its full findings next March. But on seeing the interim report, critics are concerned about the treatment people with a learning disability receive when they become ill.
“I think it’s been a huge gap in our knowledge – we haven’t known enough about why people with a learning disability die," Dr Pauline Heslop, the confidential inquiry team manager, told BBC Radio 4’s ‘File on 4’ programme yesterday (Tuesday 6 November). “We need to make sure that this is going to make a difference.”
Dr Heslop says it is too soon to draw firm conclusions from the findings. But the inquiry team has asked the government to set up a national review board on the deaths of people with a learning disability.
Death by indifference
The Radio 4 programme highlighted a number of premature deaths at Basildon Hospital, including those of Kirsty Pearce, Tina Papalabropoulos, Lisa Sharpe and Kyle Flack. These cases were highlighted in Mencap’s 2007 ‘Death by indifference’ report. Since then the charity has catalogued the deaths of 85 people it believes received poor health care before they died.
Mencap’s national policy manager for profound and multiple learning disabilities, Beverley Dawkins, says the confidential inquiry would validate what Mencap has been saying for years. “It tells a story of failing to provide good primary care, conditions that worsen and go on for too long,” she told Radio 4. “And it tells the story of hospitals who are unable to respond to the needs of people with a learning disability.
“The sum total of all those failures is a continued pattern of avoidable suffering and death across the NHS, and this absolutely must change.”
Care services minister Norman Lamb said this is “a very real concern” and he will give careful consideration to setting up the proposed national review. “Any suggestion that people are dying early – and that is related to having a learning disability – is shocking and needs to be tackled,” he said.
Radio 4’s ‘File on Four’ programme ‘Second-Class Patients?’ will air again on Sunday (11 November).