Learning disabilities study uses GP data to highlight health gap

The largest-ever study into the health of people with learning disabilities in England has highlighted the extent to which this group face higher rates of chronic illness and shorter life expectancy than the general population.

A report that includes data from almost half of GP practices in England - covering 51% of patients registerered nationally - shows that life expectancy is 18 years lower for women and 14 years lower for men with learning disabilites than among the general population.

The standardised mortality ratio for people with learning disabilities - the number of deaths in this group compared with deaths among people of the same age and sex in the general population - was 298%, triple the expected number of deaths for the population as a whole.

This finding could form the basis for an NHS outcomes framework tasking local healthcare commissioners with reducing premature mortality among people with learning disabilities, the report suggested.

Learning disability

People with learning disabilities were 26 times more likely to have epilepsy, eight times more likely to have severe mental illness and five times more likely to have dementia, the data published by NHS Digital reveal.

They were also three times more likely to suffer with hypothyroidism and almost twice as likely to suffer diabetes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease or stroke.

Just half of eligible women with a learning disability have received breast cancer screening compared with two thirds of eligible women without a learning disability, the report found. Patients with learning disabilities were also more likely to be either obese or underweight than patients on GP registers without learning disabilities.

Co-director of the Learning Disabilities Observatory Team at Public Health England Professor Gyles Glover said: 'We hope local health care commissioners and providers will use these data to understand better the key health issues for this vulnerable group and how to tackle them more effectively.'

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