Coronavirus Patients with Learning Disabilities Given ‘Do Not Resuscitate Orders’ in Britain

A Rehab Support worker checks on patient notes as the first patients are admitted to the t

Britain’s socialised healthcare system has reportedly been issuing do not resuscitate orders for people with learning disabilities during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Mencap Society, a top charity for people with learning disabilities, claimed that it had received reports in January from people with mental handicaps who said that they were told if they contracted the coronavirus, they would not be resuscitated.

Mencap’s chief executive, Edel Harris, told The Guardian: “Throughout the pandemic many people with a learning disability have faced shocking discrimination and obstacles to accessing healthcare, with inappropriate Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notices put on their files and cuts made to their social care support.

“It’s unacceptable that within a group of people hit so hard by the pandemic, and who even before Covid died on average over 20 years younger than the general population, many are left feeling scared and wondering why they have been left out.

“The JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) and government must act now to help save the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people by urgently prioritising all people with a learning disability for the vaccine,” Harris concluded.

According to Public Health England (PHE), young people between the ages of 18 and 34 with learning disabilities are 30 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than their non-disabled counterparts.

Last week, NHS figures showed that in the first five weeks of the third national lockdown, some 65 per cent of deaths of people with learning disabilities were caused by the coronavirus.

In December, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that there was “evidence of unacceptable and inappropriate” use of DNACPR orders from NHS doctors during the first wave of the pandemic leading to avoidable deaths.

The United Kingdom’s care watchdog went on to warn that despite widespread outrage over media reports, there was evidence to suggest that the policy remained in place. The CQC is set to publish another report on the scandal within the coming weeks.

In some instances, families of sick patients were told that their relatives had consented to the do not resuscitate orders, however, it was unclear whether it was “informed consent” as some patients, such as deaf people or those who don’t speak English, may not have understood the full implications.

The same communication problems have apparently affected those with learning disabilities.

A consultant in learning disability psychiatry in Leeds, Dr Keri-Michèle Lodge, said: “Doctors often don’t understand that someone with learning disabilities may not be able to communicate their symptoms. Carers are sometimes not listened to – you might notice something is wrong, but that is often written off as part of their behaviour.”

“People with learning disabilities already get a raw deal from the health services. Fewer than two in five people with a learning disability live until they are 65.”

The Office for National Statistics reported last week that 5.8 per cent of all coronavirus deaths were people with some form of disability, despite only making up 1.2 per cent of the study population.

Dr Lodge said: “The biggest factor associated with the increased rate of death from their analysis was living in care homes or residential settings.

“They prioritised people in care homes for vaccinations, but that was only for older adults. They completely forgot about people with learning disabilities in a really similar setting. I don’t know if the government were blindsided or just neglectful.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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