People in England with learning disabilities died from Covid-19 at a far higher rate than the general population, according to new research from Public Health England (PHE).
Researchers at the agency examined data from The English Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) as well as data on deaths in hospital settings from NHS England.
They found that 451 people per 100,000 who had a learning disability died with Covid-19 in the spring wave. The deaths were recorded between March 21 and June 5.
That death rate is 4.1 times higher than that of the general population, but PHE said Friday that the real rate may be up to 6.3 times higher, as not all deaths are registered in the two databases used.
People with learning disabilities are more likely to have other physical health problems, including obesity and diabetes, PHE said Friday. People with underlying health conditions are most at risk from coronavirus.
“Certain kinds of learning disability, such as Down’s syndrome, can make people more vulnerable to respiratory infections, which can increase their risk of dying from Covid-19,” the PHE statement said.
“It is deeply troubling that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society suffered so much during the first wave of the pandemic,” said Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England in a statement Friday.
Newton added: “We must do everything possible to prevent this happening again.”
Among people with learning disabilities, those in residential care had a higher death rate from Covid-19. PHE noted that this difference was likely to reflect “the greater age and disability” of those in care, at least in part.
The UK’s care homes were also hit hard by coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic, a fact which has since caused public outcry.
“There are now regular tests in care homes to make sure cases of coronavirus can be quickly identified and isolated, even if people do not recognise the symptoms themselves,” Newton said, adding that it remained essential to practice rigorous infection control.