Investigation reveals 74 deaths in NHS care

Published on Tuesday, 03 January 2012 11:41
Posted by Scott Buckler

An article published in The Guardian today (3 January), identifies the cases of 74 people with a learning disability who died while in NHS care. It also highlights a further 17 serious incidents. Families allege that hospital blunders, poorly trained staff and indifference are to blame

The newspaper’s investigation was put together in collaboration with Mencap, which has been campaigning to stop people with a learning disability from receiving unequal healthcare. In 2007, Mencap’s Death by indifference report showed evidence that people with a learning disability were unnecessarily dying because of institutional discrimination within the NHS.

Of the cases highlighted in the report, 59 took place within the last five years. The cases include that of Lisa Sharpe, who died aged 21 at Basildon hospital in Essex (pictured in the photo above with her mother, Mary Sharpe).

To end discrimination in the NHS and ensure people with a learning disability receive the same quality of care as the rest of the population, Mencap is calling for:


  • Annual health checks to become a permanent part of the GP contract to ensure early detection of health conditions, not agreed on an annual basis as now.
  • All health professionals to act within the law and get training around their obligations under the Equality Act and Mental Capacity Act so that they can put this into practice when treating patients with a learning disability.
  • Regulatory bodies, such as the GMC, should conduct rigorous investigations and deliver appropriate sanctions where health professionals clearly failed in their obligations to patients with a learning disability.
  • The NHS complaints process should be overhauled. It is not fit for purpose. It is time consuming and defensive and does not enable the NHS to learn important lessons quickly enough to prevent further deaths.
  • All hospitals should sign up to Mencap's Getting it right charter and put the good practice in to place that we know saves lives.

David Congdon, Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy, said: “These cases confirm that too many parts of the health service still do not understand how to treat people with a learning disability and they are an appalling catalogue of neglect and indignity.

“The article shows that health professionals are still making the same errors that we highlighted in our Death by indifference report. These include ignoring crucial advice from families, failing to diagnose serious illness, assuming that the quality of life of some individuals is so poor that their lives are not worth saving and failing to recognise pain and distress.

In some cases this also has meant failing to provide the most basic nursing care such as leaving patients dehydrated and without food. If attitudes and training aren’t overhauled across the board, people will continue to die needlessly.”

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