Injustice on the COVID-19 front line

The pandemic highlights unfair attitudes towards people with learning disabilities and autism but provides a lesson for their future treatment in society

Picture of COVID-19 notice on a glass door. In the background clinical staff wearing personal protective equipment look after a patient in an intensive care unit.
Picture: PA Wire

Calls for data to be published on the number of people with learning disabilities and autism who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic have been heard since nurse Irene Tuffrey-Wijne and others spoke out.

We now know that - by 14 May 2020 - more than 400 people with learning disabilities had died in England from COVID-19. However, there is concern about some of the data provided. The charity Mencap has called for information on more than 6,000 deaths where the information about them appears to be incomplete.

NHS England has recognised the need to produce mortality figures of people with learning disabilities

Mencap chief executive Edel Harris has also said some GP surgeries are asking for ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ notices to be placed on the medical records of some people with learning disabilities in case they contract COVID-19 and ‘would be unlikely to benefit from medical treatment’.

This is despite an ultimately successful call in March for national critical care guidance to be changed because it was discriminatory towards people with learning disabilities.

NHS England has recognised the need to produce the mortality figures, but people with learning disabilities and/or autism are still being discriminated against on the front line.

Policymakers should think about what being isolated from society really means

For you as learning disability nurses it is a tough time, as reflected in our analysis, which offers practical advice about what precautions to take and how to allay some fears that service users will have.

Wendy Johnson in her regular Planet Rachael column sums it up when she asks what is new about social isolation for people with autism? Her hope is that the experience we are all going through will make future policymakers think about what being isolated from society really means and what can be done to avoid it?

Visit our COVID-19 resource centre

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'Huge loss to our community': Mencap responds to NHS England data on the number of people with a learning disability who have died of COVID-19 in hospital

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