Page last updated at 23:28 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 00:28 UK

Report due on disability deaths

Mark, who died aged 30
Mark Cannon died after being admitted to hospital with a broken leg

An inquiry into NHS care of people with learning disabilities launched after the deaths of six patients is due to report on Tuesday.

The Independent Inquiry into Access to Healthcare for People with Learning Disabilities was comissioned last year by the Department of Health.

The charity Mencap had claimed that discrimination was widespread, and had contributed to the six deaths.

It said people with learning disability were a "low priority" for the NHS.

There is some excellent practice out there, it's frustrating to me that this isn't happening everywhere
Alison Giraud-Saunders
Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary who ordered the inquiry, had conceded that some parts of the NHS were failing to care properly for learning disabilities.

The inquiry has been chaired by Sir Jonathan Michael, a former chief executive of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

Its role was to look more closely at each of the six cases highlighted by Mencap, and to give its verdict on what the NHS, particularly the hospital sector, needed to change in the light of these.

Mencap's own report, "Death by indifference", published in March 2007, said that NHS staff looking after the six people who died may not have discriminated consciously, but may have needed more training in how to look after them.

No food

The cases included that of Martin Ryan, a 43-year-old who died after going without food for almost a month while in hospital following a stroke, and Emma Kemp, who, despite being given a 50% chance of survival after a cancer diagnosis, was not treated immediately after doctors said she would not co-operate.

Mark Cannon, a 30-year-old with a learning disability, died in 2003 eight weeks after being admitted to hospital with a broken leg.

His father, Allan, said at the time of the Mencap report, that he believed his son would have survived were it not for his disability.

"The medical staff had such poor understanding of Mark's needs," he said.

Alison Giraud-Saunders, co-director at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, said that the problem was likely to be far more widespread than these cases alone.

"There is some excellent practice out there. It's frustrating to me that this isn't happening everywhere.

"It's not deliberate, and you can see how somebody can easily be overlooked in a busy ward situation. These are very difficult environments to work in.

"But this still doesn't make it right - the NHS has a responsibility to make things better."

David Congdon, from Mencap, said: "We hope that the inquiry will make strong recommendations on what needs to change.

"Real action and leadership is needed if people with a learning disability are to be kept safe in the health service."




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