Medical treatment was withheld from people with learning disabilities during pandemic

Medical treatment was withheld from people with learning disabilities during the pandemic, The Telegraph can disclose.

Patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 were not given potentially life-saving treatment because of their conditions.

The learning disability charity Mencap said they were aware of cases where “treatment was withheld” and this led to the patient “dying prematurely”.

The disclosure will fuel concerns about how patients with learning disabilities were treated during the pandemic and raise questions about how medics view individuals with such conditions.

Office for National Statistics figures from last year show that nearly six out of every 10 people who died with coronavirus in England were disabled.

Last week, the Telegraph revealed how patients with mental illness and learning disabilities were given "do not attempt resuscitation" (DNR) orders in England during the pandemic.

Matt Hancock pledged to investigate orders that were “inappropriately” given and said that he wanted to "know" about any cases where people may have been "disobeying the guidance".

The Telegraph has been told about cases where people with learning disabilities did not receive some treatments during the pandemic.

Edel Harris, chief executive of the organisation, told The Telegraph that “during Covid some people did not receive the level of care they deserved when they were admitted to hospital”.

“We are aware of cases where families believe treatment was withheld because their loved one had a learning disability and, in some cases, this led to them dying prematurely”, he said.

A woman whose sister caught Covid-19 in a care home in the south of England has also alleged that her relative was denied treatment because of her disability.

Sherin Ratcliffe’s sister – who was in her 50s and had down syndrome – caught Covid-19 in the care home where she lived.  

The UK has one of the highest share of deaths amongst its care home residents

Once in hospital, Ms Ratcliffe’s sister – whom Ms Ratcliffe has asked The Telegraph not to name – struggled to breathe.  

Ms Ratcliffe said her sister was “a jolly soul”, but had the mental age of an 18-month old and was non-verbal. She moved into the care home after her parents became too elderly to care for her.

When her sister was being treated, Ms Ratcliffe asked about use of a CPAP mask – a machine used during the pandemic to help patients breathe more easily – and a doctor said “‘it would be too distressing’ for my sister to administer more intensive treatment because they couldn’t sedate her to apply this kind of treatment, she had to be conscious for it”, she said.

A couple of days later, the hospital said that her sister’s oxygen levels had dropped further and the next step would be palliative care.

Ms Ratcliffe’s sister died on April 26.

Ms Ratcliffe said that although the hospital did their best for her sister, she was “concerned that given the pressures that they were under… it just becomes a de facto thing that for people with learning disabilities, the treatment only goes up to a certain point and then will not continue”, she said.  

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