Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Vulnerable deaths inquiry set up

Martin Ryan
Martin Ryan is one of six patients whose cases caused outrage

A confidential inquiry to investigate premature deaths of people with learning disabilities in England is to be set up by the Department of Health.

It comes in response to an independent inquiry, published in July 2008, into the deaths of vulnerable NHS patients highlighted by Mencap.

Cases include Martin Ryan, 43, who went 26 days without food before he died after staff did not fit a feeding tube.

Mencap said it was an "important step forward".

Other cases in their report "Death by Indifference" include Emma Kemp of Newbury, Berkshire, who was not treated for cancer because doctors said her communication difficulties meant she was unable to consent.

These systemic recommendations for improvements in health care are an important step forward and will be good news for all people with a learning disability.
Mark Goldring, chief executive, Mencap

The independent inquiry into the deaths, led by Sir Jonathan Michael, said laws to protect people with learning disabilities were being ignored by the NHS in England.

A report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is due later this month.

The DoH said it will also commission a new Public Health Observatory to provide data on learning disabilities and would work to ensure medical students and NHS professionals receive training on learning disabilities, equalities and human rights.

A spokesperson said this would build on other work to introduce annual GP health checks for people with learning disabilities.

Study opportunities

The announcement comes as part of Valuing People Now, a three-year strategy to improve services for people with learning disabilities across health, housing, employment and community care.

This includes plans to support more people with learning disabilities into paid work, and giving them more opportunities to study.

Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson said: "I accept the recommendations of Sir Jonathan Michael's Independent Inquiry.

"We will set up a confidential inquiry into premature deaths of people with learning disabilities as soon as possible, along with a Public Health Observatory to provide data on services.

"These will help improve NHS commissioning of services further. "

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said: "Valuing People Now has rightly acted on the recommendations of Mencap's Death by Indifference report as well as the independent inquiry from Sir Jonathan Michael."

He added: "These systemic recommendations for improvements in health care are an important step forward and will be good news for all people with a learning disability.

"While the delivery plan is particularly important, we have serious reservations about the reality.

"Hard-pressed and under-pressure local authorities, working with partnership boards without any statutory powers, are going to find it hard to deliver the vision set out in Valuing People Now."

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SEE ALSO
Call for damning death verdicts
09 Jan 09 |  Health
Report due on disability deaths
28 Jul 08 |  Health
'The NHS failed my daughter'
12 Mar 07 |  Health

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