Headlines: March 12th, 2007



The leading mental health charity, Mencap, is calling today for an independent inquiry into the deaths of six people with a learning disability, which it claims are the result of widespread ignorance and indifference within the health service. The charity also wants improvements in the way complaints against the NHS are investigated.

Details of the six people who Mencap believes died unnecessarily through what it has branded ‘institutional discrimination within NHS care’, are set out in a report entitled ‘Death by Indifference’.

Dame Jo Williams, Mencap’s chief executive, said, “We are deeply disturbed that three years on from Mencap’s ‘Treat me right’ report which exposed inequalities within the NHS, people with a learning disability continue to receive worse healthcare than those without a disability.”

Mencap is calling for an independent inquiry to investigate the six deaths together rather than individually, as it feels this would uncover underlying poor practice behind the deaths and show what lessons could be learnt to stop such tragedies happening in future. It is also calling for confirmation that a long promised confidential inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities will be carried out. Only this inquiry, it says, will reveal the number of people with a learning disability dying unnecessarily, and the scale of the problem the NHS has to address.

The charity claims the current NHS complaints system is lengthy and complex and is calling for improvements which would mean families can find out how their loved ones died and whether the death was avoidable.

Dame Jo Williams said, “We want the underlying bad practice, which we believe is a result of poorly designed systems, policies and procedures within the NHS, to be identified and acted upon. If action is not taken to eliminate institutional discrimination from our health services, people with a learning disability will continue to die unnecessarily.”

In its ‘New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century’, published in 2001 and in last year’s ‘Our health, Our care, Our say: A new direction for community services’, the Department of Health had recognised the inequalities experienced by people with a learning disability within NHS care, but inspite of this, she said, but there was no commitment to tackling them.