Letter: NHS fails people with learning disabilities

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The Independent Online
Sir: People with learning disabilities and mental health problems figure among the poorest groups in society, die younger than other Britons and have to surmount greater hurdles to gain primary care services, sometimes as basic as registering with a GP ("NHS `bias' against mentally ill linked to high death rate", 24 January)

Research finds that preventable mortality for people with learning disabilities is four times that of the population at large; that a diagnosis of schizophrenia shortens life by an average of 10 years, and that there is a less than 20 per cent take-up of cervical cancer screening among women with learning disabilities.

Evidence detailing the root causes of unequal health outcomes is indeed complex but when research shows that many deaths of disabled people are preventable, it is correct to inquire whether at a systems level we are failing to take the positive action needed to close this stark gap. The worrying disparities in health outcomes between people with learning disabilities and mental health problems and non-disabled people raise a serious point of concern that all healthcare practitioners and policy-makers should make an urgent priority. Without this the Government's commitment to reduce inequalities in health outcomes runs the real risk that socially excluded groups could be left out. The Disability Rights Commission's announcement of an 18-month investigation into primary healthcare services provided to disabled people is therefore as timely as it is welcome.

The Government's laudable ambitions to reduce health inequalities and create a momentum for individual responsibility must take into account the experiences of disabled people.

Professor CAROL M BLACK

President, Royal College of Physicians

NIALL DICKSON

Chief Executive, King's Fund

Dame GILL MORGAN

Chief Executive, NHS Confederation

MAYUR LAKHANI

Chairman, Royal College of General Practitioners

Dr BEVERLY MALONE

General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing

Baroness MURPHY OF ALDGATE

Chairman, North East London Strategic Health Authority

Baroness NEUBERGER

SHEILA HOLLINS

Professor of Psychiatry of Learning Disability, St George's Hospital Medical School

CHRIS PHILLIPSON

President, British Society of Gerontolology,

Dr MIKE SHOOTER

President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

London WCI

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