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New study exposes health inequality among learning disabled children


Significant amount of deaths are preventable

Learning disabled children in Scotland are more likely to die from preventable causes, new research has found.

A study by the Scottish Learning Disability Observatory (SLDO) study found that 34% of deaths were avoidable.

It comes on top of recent finding showing adults with a learning disability were twice as likely to die from preventable illnesses.

Angela Henderson, director of policy and impact at the SLDO, said: "People with learning disabilities experience higher rates of multi-morbidity than the general population, and die prematurely, often from causes that are either treatable or preventable.

"These include epilepsy, deaths from respiratory conditions and deaths related to gastro-intestinal problems."

Often clinicians wrongly assume that symptoms of an illness are related to a person's learning disability, rather than to a specific health problem.

Dr Laura Hughes-Mccormack, who led the study, said efforts to reduce the health inequalities that lead to the unnecessary deaths of children and young people with learning disabilities must be prioritised.

The Scottish government earlier this year announced £2m in funding for annual health checks for learning disabled people over the age of 16.

Kevin Stewart, the Scottish government's social security minister, said that he was "concerned about these health inequalities".

"We have done all of the work that's required in terms of the research and piloting of all of this, and we're in a position now to deliver right across Scotland for our learning disabled population.”

He added: "This is the right thing to do, I think that this resourcing is absolutely what is required, and we hope that that will make a real difference to the health of our learning disabled population."

Keith Lynch, director of charity People First, who has a learning disability himself,  said he often wasn’t taken seriously.

"For me, I don't always seem to understand what the doctors say to me, even though I do ask them to speak in small, plain, simple words so that I can understand," he said.

"They just keep talking in long words which we call jargon, and that's the same experience for other people with disabilities so they're often left confused."

He added: "I would like to see doctors and nurses taking time to get to know a person with learning disabilities over a long period of time rather than passed from one person to another."

The Scottish government said it would be providing support to healthcare staff to carry out the new checks.



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