MPs have called for an independent inquiry into why so many disabled people have died from coronavirus, and the role the UK government and other public bodies have played in causing those deaths.
Members of the Commons women and equalities committee say in a new report that an independent inquiry into the causes of the “starkly disproportionate and tragic” death rates should be held as soon as the country has gained control of the pandemic.
They also say that the crisis has had “profoundly adverse affects” on disabled people’s access to services across England.
The report, published yesterday (Tuesday), says the inquiry should be “wide-ranging” and should investigate the causes of these “adverse outcomes”.
The report says: “Disabled people who already faced substantial barriers to full participation in society, for example because services were inaccessible or they had additional health, care and support or special educational needs, have suffered a range of profoundly adverse effects from the pandemic, including starkly disproportionate and tragic deaths.
“There must be a discrete independent inquiry into the causes of adverse outcomes for disabled people, including the decisions and policies of the Government and public authorities.”
Research from Public Health England last month found that the death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning difficulties was 30 times higher than non-disabled people in the same age group.
And previous Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that about three-fifths of COVID-related deaths in England and Wales had been of disabled people, while ONS admitted that this was likely to be an under-estimate.
The cross-party committee points in its new report to a series of “adverse effects” experienced by disabled people during the pandemic.
These include problems securing access to food; the use of “potentially discriminatory” and “deeply concerning” critical care guidelines in the NHS and doctors’ blanket use of do not attempt resuscitation (DNAR) notices; and the impact of the pandemic in worsening the existing crisis in education for disabled children.
It also highlights inaccessible government communications during the pandemic, including the failure to provide a British Sign Language interpreter during its live televised briefings, and other inaccessible public health information.
And it says that the way the government has communicated with disabled people, such as those categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable, “has, on occasions, caused confusion and compounded already keenly felt anxiety”.
The report says: “Disabled people’s experiences of inaccessible public health information from the Government during this pandemic have been unacceptable.
“Disabled people have been put at risk through lack of access to vital information.
“Their communication needs should have been anticipated as a matter of course.
“Everyone should have the right to receive public health information in a format they can understand.”
Among the committee’s recommendations is a call for the government to strengthen the public sector equality duty, which imposes duties on public bodies under the Equality Act.
A government spokesperson said: “During this unprecedented time, the government has ensured that disabled people have had access to employment support, benefits, financial support, food, medicines, as well as accessible communications and guidance.
“We regularly engage with disability stakeholders and people with disabilities to ensure their needs are considered as part of our response to COVID-19.
“We welcome the committee’s examination of the effects of the pandemic on disabled people and will respond in the new year.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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