• Covid-19 death rates among people with learning disabilities and autism are broadly in line with the rest of the population
  • Data suggests 451 people who died were recorded to have LD or autism
  • National charity questions ”reliability” of NHS England and Improvement’s data

The covid-19 death rates among people with learning disabilities and autism are broadly in line with the rest of the population, NHS England has said.

According to new data from NHS England and NHS Improvement, 451 patients who have died from coronavirus since 24 March were recorded to have a learning disability or autism. 

This is around two per cent of all covid-19 deaths within hospitals over the same period, which NHS England said was roughly proportionate to the number of people with a learning disabilities or autism in the population. The data does not differentiate learning disabilities and autism. 

Early in the pandemic, there were some concerns that LD and autism patients could be denied intensive care treatment if they became seriously ill from covid-19, after being wrongly categorised alongside frail elderly patients. There is also a higher prevalence of physical co-morbidities in this population, potentially increasing their vulnerability to the virus.

The data also suggested 1,020 people who have received treatment for a mental health condition died from covid-19 in the same period, accounting for around 4 per cent of deaths. Of these 76 died within an inpatient unit, the “majority” occurring in older adult wards.

NHSE/I did not comments on whether this was in proportion was within the expected range.

There were 13,612 deaths for which no answer was given when asked if they had a mental health condition, learning disability and or autism.

The new data, has not been broken down by organisation but includes deaths in all NHS hospitals, and those within NHS funded care settings.

It does not include deaths which have occurred in the community or care home settings. However, yesterday the Care Quality Commission said it intends to analyse available data on the deaths of those with autism or learning disabilities

The regulator said it will map data from the Office of National Statistics on care home deaths against records which indicate whether someone was autistic or had a learning disability.

A spokesman for NHS England and Improvement said: “Although early NHS data show that the number of covid-19 deaths in hospital of people with a learning disability is broadly in line with the rest of the population, it’s clearly important that – working with PHE, charities and government – we continue to monitor all available evidence, which is why we will shortly also publish additional data about deaths of people with a learning disability as reported as part of the LeDeR programme.”

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “Today’s figures show that hundreds of people in England have died in hospital who are autistic or have a learning disability.

 “We are calling on the Government to stick to their promise to prioritise testing for younger autistic people in care homes, which is not happening consistently. They also need to give tests to people who receive care in their own homes. But we’re also concerned about how reliable today’s figures are as people’s records do not always say if someone is autistic. The Government and NHS England must do more to make sure that recording of autism improves.

“600,000 people in England are autistic. We need to understand the particular impact of coronavirus on people who already face huge health inequalities.”