On 15th December I wrote in the Guardian that people with learning disabilities should be prioritised for a Covid vaccine. I highlighted Public Health England’s unambiguous analysis that people with learning disabilities are at least 4.1, and maybe 6.3, times more likely than others to die of Covid-19.
At the same time I wrote to @nadhimzahawi, the Minister in charge of vaccine rollout. I am still looking forward to his response. Following @FoxNikkiFox’s excellent feature on BBC news last night, it’s not too late for you to write to your MP about it too.
Most people with a learning disability are still treated no different to the general population within the vaccination rollout sequence. This is because the government analysis that underpinned the vaccination sequencing says that (and I quote) ‘no assessment could be made on adults with learning disability… due to lack of systematically collected data.’
So, what am I missing?
The left hand of the government cites highly credible data sourced originally from the LEDER review and the Covid Patient Notification System that shows a shockingly high difference in Covid-related death rates for this group. The right hand – the one that makes the decisions – reckons there is no data.
As a support provider, Dimensions would have welcomed the chance to inform this policy. We along with many others know that the increased mortality can most likely be attributed not only to clinical issues associated with having a learning disability, but also to known barriers and systemic health inequalities.
Particular new barriers now include the widespread loss of face-to-face annual GP health checks. For many reasons relating to communication, a virtual health check works for few people with learning disabilities. Dimensions is asking GPs to prioritise learning disability health provisions, most importantly the face-to-face annual health check, in order to avoid a long term worsening of existing substantial health inequalities and even earlier mortality.
76% told us they feel like they do not matter, compared to other people and 97% feel government should do more to address their specific needs. Those are compelling statistics.
And yet… it remains the case that people with learning disabilities don’t often vote in elections. Is that the root cause for why this group so often find themselves at the back of the queue? Is that what I’m missing?
Encouragingly in our research, 57% of respondents said they want to be more involved in politics as a result of the pandemic. That must be a real opportunity for change. So if you are in a position to encourage even one person with a learning disability or autism to get into politics, please do so. It is just so important:
- Help someone to register to vote today.
- Encourage someone to sign up for United Response’s Easy News bulletin, to prompt discussion about politics.
- And use this Voting Passport to help at the polling station on election day itself – whenever that may be – people tell us that has proved hugely helpful.