Patients with learning disabilities have been given do not resuscitate orders during the deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, despite widespread condemnation of the practice and an urgent investigation from a care watchdog.
Charity Mencap said it received reports in January from people with learning disabilities, who had been told that they would not be resuscitated if they contracted Covid-19.
The news comes despite the Care Quality Commission saying in December that ill-advised Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notices had caused a number of potentially avoidable deaths last year.
Do not resuscitate orders are normally reserved for people too frail to benefit from CPR – but Mencap said that some had been issued for people because they had learning disabilities.
It comes as pressure increased on ministers to reconsider a decision not to give people with learning disabilities priority for coronavirus vaccinations.
Some people with learning disabilities like Down’s syndrome were in one of the four priority groups set by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which had been promised a vaccine by the government by tomorrow, but many are still waiting.
NHS figures revealed last week that, since the third lockdown began, coronavirus has accounted for 65 per cent of deaths of people with learning disabilities. Younger people with learning disabilities aged 18 to 35 are 30 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than others the same age, according to Public Health England.
Edel Harris, Mencap chief executive, told the Observer: “Throughout the pandemic many people with a learning disability have faced shocking discrimination and obstacles to accessing healthcare, with inappropriate Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notices put on their files and cuts made to their social care support.
“It’s unacceptable that within a group of people hit so hard by the pandemic, and who even before Covid died on average over 20 years younger than the general population, many are left feeling scared and wondering why they have been left out.
“The JCVI and government must act now to help save the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people by urgently prioritising all people with a learning disability for the vaccine.”
Professor Martin Green OBE, Care England’s chief executive, added: “As the largest representative body for independent providers for adult social care, Care England remains concerned that the government has not given individuals with a learning disability a higher level of priority for the Covid vaccine.
“We urge the government to remove the arbitrary distinction between prioritising those with a severe or profound learning disability and those with a mild or moderate learning disability, and prioritise all those with a learning disability in priority group four. People with learning disabilities must not be overlooked at any time.”