The impact of COVID19 on the learning disabled


Our Chief Executive, Lesslie Young, looks at the impact of COVID19 on the learning disabled.

Two months ago, well into the COVID19 lockdown, I wrote about the disadvantages people with learning disabilities and associated conditions, were experiencing during the pandemic.

I find it enormously frustrating to be revisiting this issue again now.

In May this year, it was reported half COVID19 deaths in Scotland took place in Scottish care homes.

NHS England announced in June, 451 people who had a learning disability and/or autism had died of coronavirus, accounting for 2% of all coronavirus hospital deaths.

They stated this significant number of deaths was commensurate with the general population.

Yet the Care Quality Commission in England reported 205 people with a learning disability, some of whom may also have had autism, died in care settings because of COVID19.

This marked a 134% increase in deaths compared to the same period last year. Given this, there is no doubt a need to protect the vulnerable and those at risk.

I question though whether the hesitance in easing so many of the restrictions still in place for this group of people is justified.

People who in many instances have seen their whole social life disappear, been restricted in their interactions much more than anyone else, and with much, if not all, this either beyond their understanding or completely misinterpreted by them.


Learning disabled restricted the most and for the longest period

Imagine then my disappointment when I saw on the evening news this week, the story of a mother who had not seen her son for many months due to the restrictions brought to bear by COVID19.

This young man has epilepsy and cerebral palsy and lives in supported accommodation.

He celebrated his much looked forward to 30th birthday not with his family as was planned but with those he lived with.

Now, I accept we have all had to make significant changes or sacrifices but this young man believed his mother no longer wanted him.

A young woman with autism and epilepsy who lives in supported accommodation planned to take advantage of the government Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Learning disabled

Her plans to visit a favourite café for lunch, using public transport but putting in place all necessary mitigations, were agreed with her guardian but unfortunately not supported by the provider, meaning she could not go.

These examples are not cited to apportion blame. I accept everyone is trying to do the best for those they are responsible for.

However, when instructions and guidelines are being provided by the government, the Care Inspectorate and numerous other agencies, clarity is lost, and confusion is created.

Yet again, it appears the learning disabled have been restricted the most and for the longest period.

Trips out for lunch, reunions with family, things the rest of us have looked forward to, experienced and cherished, as restrictions have eased are still prohibited for so many. So many who arguably need it all the most.


Mental health affected

The mental health of those affected is being compromised and the impact completely ignored.

The young man unable to understand why his mother had not visited in months left feeling neglected and abandoned, wrongfully believing his mother no longer wanted him.

The young woman seeing her freedom to choose, and another layer of her limited independence restricted even further.

Throughout this pandemic there has been inconsistency and inequality in the imposition of the lockdown and associated restrictions and not nearly enough attention paid to their impact.

What is abundantly clear is those with learning disabilities have lost out in many more ways than the rest of society. And they still are.