The Scottish government is facing fresh calls to investigate why so many disabled people have died during the pandemic, after new figures showed for the first time that they accounted for nearly three-fifths of all deaths involving COVID-19 in Scotland.
The national disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Scotland responded with “extreme concern” yesterday (Wednesday) to the figures from National Records of Scotland (NRS).
But Inclusion Scotland also questioned why it had taken NRS so long to publish the figures (PDF), when similar statistics covering the deaths of disabled people in England were first published last June.
The new NRS figures show that disabled people accounted for 4,333 of 7,490 deaths involving COVID-19 of those aged 30 and over in Scotland, between 16 March 2020 and 31 January 2021.
This means that 58 per cent of deaths of those aged 30 and over were of disabled people, even though they make up only 18 per cent of that population, while NRS suggested that this was still likely to be an under-estimate of the true number of disabled people who have died.
After adjusting for age, disabled women with higher support needs were 3.2 times as likely to die with COVID-19 compared to non-disabled women, while disabled men with higher support needs were 3.0 times as likely to die with COVID19 compared to non-disabled men.
These figures were slightly lower than the most recent ONS figures for England (4.1 times as likely for women and 3.2 for men).
Heather Fisken (pictured), director of policy and research at Inclusion Scotland, said the figures were “sadly not surprising” because of the earlier ONS statistics.
But she said: “Our own research and that of other disabled people’s organisations has shown that the pandemic has had a devastating effect on all areas of disabled people’s lives.
“The loss of vital social care support, unequal access to healthcare, information and food, the misuse of Do Not Resuscitate notices and the lack of [personal protective equipment] for personal assistants and carers have all put disabled people’s lives at risk.
“Today’s figures clearly show that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and not properly protected during this crisis.
“The delay in publishing the Scottish figures is also further evidence of the lack of urgency with which issues affecting disabled people have been dealt with.
“Such data is essential to inform decisions on future prevention and planning and to ensure that disabled people’s lives are protected.
“This data should feature large in how the government responds to this crisis and future emergencies.”
She added: “Inclusion Scotland recently signed a letter to the Scottish government calling for it to commission a public inquiry into Scotland’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We repeat this call and urge the Scottish government to ensure there is a full investigation into what happened to disabled people during the pandemic and the reasons why so many disabled people have died from COVID-19.”
Asked why it had taken so long to produce the figures, an NRS spokesperson said: “The ONS published valuable evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people in England in 2020.
“There was broad agreement that this evidence provided a robust indication of the situation in Scotland.
“Following discussions with disabled people’s organisations, NRS agreed to produce analysis based on Scottish data which would address the question of whether disabled people in Scotland were more likely than non-disabled people to have died with COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.
“The NRS and ONS analyses both provide strong evidence that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people.”
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