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New data shows a significant increase in deaths of people with a learning disability during the coronavirus outbreak. Section 1 summarises the impact of the coronavirus on people with learning disabilities in England.

Over 1.2 million people in England have a learning disability. The Government and NHS England are working to reduce health inequalities for people with a learning disability and have established national programmes to improve treatment and outcomes. The Government’s Mandate to the NHS 2018-19 set an objective for the NHS to close the health gap between people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism and the population as a whole.

Most recently, the NHS Long Term Plan (published in January 2019) recognised learning disabilities and autism as clinical priority areas. The Long Term Plan committed to increasing annual health checks for people with a learning disability, introducing designated keyworkers for children and young people and halving inpatient care for this group by 50% by 2023/24.

The Government has also committed to introducing mandatory training on learning disabilities and autism for health and social care staff. Trials will begin in health and social care settings by April 2020, and report by March 2021, after which wider roll-out of training is expected for all staff.

In June 2015, NHS England commissioned the National Learning Disability Mortality Review Programme (LeDeR), to review and learn from deaths of people with a learning disability with the aim of improving services, care and support nationally. The third annual report was published in May 2019, which found that in a large number of cases, people received poor standards of healthcare which significantly impacted on their well-being or directly contributed to their death. The report made twelve recommendations for the education, and health and care systems; the Government’s response to the recommendations was published in February 2020.

The NHS has also announced £5 million in funding to accelerate the pace of LeDeR reviews. The NHS Action from Learning report (May 2019) described national and local actions to improve outcomes in response to reviews, such as targeted action in clinical areas including cancer and sepsis, and initiatives in hospitals to improve reasonable adjustments and the update of medical tests.

The Government and NHS have focused on reducing levels of inpatient care for people with a learning disability and/or autism. The Department of Health and Social Care has said that hospitals are not where people should live and has committed to move people to community-based support. However, ambitions for this have been postponed – the most recent target, as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, is for a reduction in inpatient provision of 50% (as compared to 2015 levels) by 2023/24. In February 2020, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care over the failure to move people with learning disabilities and autism into appropriate accommodation (see Equality and Human Rights Commission, Health Secretary faces legal challenge for failing patients with learning disabilities and autism, 12 February 2020).

The briefing also looks at recent policy changes in the areas of employment, welfare and education.

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