Throughout the pandemic, people with learning disabilities and autism have consistently been let down. A lack of clear, easy-to-understand guidance, unequal access to care and illegal “do not resuscitate” instructions have exacerbated the inequalities many people have long faced. It is crucial we do not forget those who have constantly been at the back of the queue: people with learning disabilities and autism.
The impact cannot be ignored: research shows that 76% of people with learning disabilities feel they do not matter to the government, compared with the general public, during the pandemic. And data shows the danger of contracting COVID-19 for people with learning disabilities and autism is much higher than for the wider population.
Public Health England has said the registered COVID-19 death rate for people with learning disabilities in England is more than four times times higher than the general population. But experts estimate the true rate is likely to be even higher, since not all deaths of people with learning disabilities are registered in the databases used to collate the findings.
The reasons the pandemic has impacted people with learning disabilities so disproportionately are systemic, and a result of inequalities in healthcare services experienced for generations. Yes, some individuals are more clinically vulnerable, on account of the co-morbidities and complications associated with their learning disability. For many people, however, poorer outcomes after contracting the virus are due to non-clinical issues and inequalities in accessing healthcare services. This is inexcusable.
The government must prioritise vaccinations for the 1.5 million people with learning disabilities and 700,000 with autism. Putting this long-overlooked group at the top of the vaccine queue would help address the systemic health inequalities learning disabled people face.
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Source: The Guardian, 15 December 2020