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NHS Doctors put lower value on lives of the disabled research finds

NHS doctors are more likely to allow patients to die if they suffer from a mental disability according to a damning Government-backed research finds.NHS Doctors put lower value on lives of the disabled research findsIn some cases doctors may even be making orders not to resuscitate “because” patients have learning difficulties, the three year study concludes.

In other cases, it found evidence of doctors making more “rapid” and “premature” life-and-death decisions in cases involving the disabled than other people.

People with special needs are also less likely to be diagnosed quickly with conditions such as cancer and “all aspects” of medical care were “significantly” worse for them than for the wider population, it concluded.

As a result they can expect to die an average of 16 years earlier than those without a disability, it found. The gap rises to as much as 20 years among women.

Charities said the study, a three-year investigation by Bristol University academics into hundreds of deaths, proved that the lives of disabled people are “valued less” than those of others.

A parallel paper, commissioned by Mencap using the same data, calculated that there are more than 1,200 avoidable deaths of people with mental disabilities every year across the country – the equivalent of a Mid-Staffordshire hospital deaths scandal every year.

Its author, Dr Pauline Heslop of Bristol University’s Norah Fry Research Centre, said the findings were “shocking” and a “wake-up call”.

“We have, over the past few years, been rightly horrified by the abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View hospital and of vulnerable patients at Mid-Staffordshire,” she said.

“The findings of the confidential inquiry into the deaths of people with learning disabilities should be of no less a concern.”

The Government-sponsored Confidential Inquiry into Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities looked in detail into the circumstances of all deaths involving people with learning difficulties in South West England over a two-year period – almost 250 in total. They also compared them with a sample of deaths involving non-disabled people.

It found that 42 per cent of deaths of people with learning disabilities were “premature” and 37 per cent might have been avoided with better or quicker treatment.

While early deaths among non-disabled people was often associated with factors such as smoking and drinking – for those with learning difficulties the most common factors were delays or problems with diagnosis, referral and treatment as well as a wider failure to take make allowances for special needs.

About a third of those with special needs who died had had trouble communicating pain and a similar proportion had not had an annual health check in the previous year.

The most common age for men with learning disabilities to die was just 65 – 13 years before other men. For women with learning disabilities the median age at death was 63 – two decades earlier than other women in the same area.

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