Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“Over the last few days, people with a learning disability have received a number of concerning letters from GP surgeries which advise them that they are unlikely to be prioritised for medical treatment because they are ‘frail’. These letters wrongly conflate having support needs with frailty. As revised NICE guidance clearly states, the clinical frailty scale should never be used to assess people with a learning disability for medical treatment, rather an individual assessment must be undertaken on admission to hospital.

“While GP surgeries are right to flag that people with a learning disability should make sure their hospital passports and communication guides are up-to-date in the event of being admitted to hospital, they are wrong in suggesting that people with a learning disability may be better off staying at home should they contract coronavirus or that they will end up alone in hospital.  NHS guidance clearly states that people with a learning disability have a right to be accompanied and this is a reasonable adjustment which hospitals must make.  People with a learning disability have a right to equal access to healthcare just like anyone else. We are urgently looking into this issue and will be challenging this advice from GP surgeries.”

Please get in touch with us if you have also received a similar letter from your GP surgery by emailing Mencap at: media@mencap.org.uk.

For advice and information on learning disability, including advice on coronavirus and healthcare, please contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email helpline@mencap.org.uk.

Or visit Mencap’s website to access easy read information about coronavirus and resources on your rights and how to ask for reasonable adjustments in hospital. Visit ww.mencap.org.uk.


For further information, contact Mencap’s media team via: 

Notes to editors 

About Mencap     

There is approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.

Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want and also campaigns to change laws, improve services and challenge negative attitudes towards people with a learning disability. 

Visit www.mencap.org.uk.

Treat Me Well Campaign

In 2018, Mencap launched our Treat Me Well campaign to help save lives and to transform how the NHS treats people with a learning disability in hospital.  

It is estimated 1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably every year when timely access to good quality care could have saved them. While people with a learning disability die on average over two decades younger than people without a learning disability.

Over ten years after Mencap highlighted the issue in this PDF report of people with a learning disability dying avoidably, Mencap’s Treat me well campaign is working with healthcare professionals and campaigners to change that.

Working alongside healthcare professionals and campaigners like Paula McGowan, mother to Oliver McGowan who died in hospital, the Treat me well campaign has succeeded in securing mandatory learning disability training for all health professionals which will be named in honour of Oliver and will be piloted shortly.

Simple changes in hospital care can make a big difference – better communication, more time and clearer information. 

But we know the treatment that people with a learning disability get in hospital is still not good enough in many parts of the country. This has to change. 

Our Treat me well campaign is working with healthcare professionals and campaigners to make sure people with a learning disability are treated equally in hospital and get the healthcare they need and have a right to which can help to save lives.   

What is a learning disability?    

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life
  • Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.