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Worst health - worst healthcare

15th September 2006

15092006_mentalhealth1.jpgThe Disability Rights Commission (DRC) says the Government is failing to ensure that quality health care is being delivered to people with the worst health and could face a legal challenge.

The DRC’s investigation, ‘Equal Treatment: Closing the Gap’, investigated the experience of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities of primary care services in England and Wales. International research showed that these two groups were at higher risk of serious physical health problems.

The government could face a legal challenge under new disability equality laws unless discriminatory practices are eliminated, say the DRC. From December 2006, the NHS will come under the Disability Equality Duty, placing them under an obligation to ensure that their policies and practices do not discriminate, and do promote equal opportunities for disabled people. A wide range of current practices could clearly breach this duty, say the DRC.

The investigation underlined that people with learning disabilities and people with mental health problems are more likely to experience major illness, develop serious health conditions and to die of them at an earlier age. However they are also less likely to receive some of the important treatments and health checks and face real barriers to accessing services.

The DRC says it encountered complacency and a 'lazy fatalism' that these groups ‘just do’ die younger, or ‘just won’t’ look after their health or attend appointments.  There is often no effort to make it possible for these groups to use the services on an equal basis to others.

The investigation calls for a shift in approach, rooting out unequal treatment and explicitly targeting these very high risk groups for health checks and follow-up treatments.

In addition people with learning disabilities and mental health problems may experience ‘diagnostic overshadowing’, with reports of physical ill health being viewed as part of the mental health problem or learning disability, leading to a lack of follow up and appropriate treatment.

Despite high levels of ill health, over 50% of people with mental health problems or people with learning disabilities said they experienced difficulties when trying to see their GP; for example the attitude of reception staff, inflexible appointments and inaccessible information. Barriers could often be remedied by simple changes to services by GPs to make them more 'user friendly'.

On a positive note, there was no evidence that mental health patients with serious symptoms received a worse follow up than other patients.

The report also blames government inertia in implementing policy drivers and incentives for the unequal treatment from primary care services for this group of people. The government is being urged to put in place a number of improvements to "close the gap".

Dr Sam Everington, Co-Chairman of the BMA’s Equal Opportunities Committee, said the report was 'extremely worrying', adding “As doctors, we believe it is unacceptable for the healthcare needs of this group of people to be ignored."


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Article Information

Title: Worst health - worst healthcare
Author: Sue Knights
Article Id: 781
Date Added: 15th Sep 2006


Investigation finds people with the worst health get the worst healthcare
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