New official figures, set to be released early next month, should provide a clearer picture of why so many disabled people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has told Disability News Service that it expects to publish the figures during the first fortnight in February.
It also plans to use GP records to provide further statistics on the excess risk of COVID-related deaths among people with learning difficulties.
This follows the publication of Public Health England figures which showed younger people with learning difficulties in England were more than 30 times more likely to die from coronavirus than non-disabled people of the same age.
Previous ONS figures have shown that about three-fifths of all COVID-related deaths in England and Wales were of disabled people, while ONS has admitted that this was likely to be an under-estimate.
But ONS has been fine-tuning its previous work, and now hopes to show how many of the excess deaths have been due to underlying health conditions, and how many could be caused by other factors.
It will also isolate the impact of factors such as the part of the country where a disabled person lives, the population density of the area where they live, the make-up of their household, and their occupation.
Allowing for all these factors should provide a clearer picture of any excess risk of death disabled people have faced that is on top of the COVID-related risks posed by any existing health conditions.
Such excess risks – if they exist – could have been caused by factors such as discrimination in the provision of medical treatment or other services, and political decisions relating to social care, care homes and financial support, as previously highlighted by DNS.
These factors could include delays in testing social care staff for coronavirus and the decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for COVID-19, in the early weeks of the pandemic.
This means the figures could help to show if the government violated its obligation to protect disabled people’s right to life, under article two of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and breached the Equality Act, other ECHR articles, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
An ONS spokesperson said the new figures aimed to show “how much of a role diagnosed diseases or medical conditions play when it comes to the relationship between disability and COVID-19 mortality”.
Only last month, the Commons women and equalities committee called for an independent inquiry into the causes of the “starkly disproportionate and tragic” death rates of disabled people during the pandemic.
The committee suggested these causes could include decisions and policies of the government and other public bodies.
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