Editorial Comment: Disability to the fore

The Disability Rights Commission is to be congratulated on its landmark report detailing the health inequalities experienced by people with learning difficulties and those with mental health problems. The comprehensive research involved sifting through no less than eight million primary care records, as well as conducting a major consultation exercise with service
users and providers.

The sheer scale of the problem set out by the DRC surely ought to shame those in positions of influence – both in government and in primary care trusts – to take action this time and make these two socially excluded groups more of a priority.

The report itself uses the example that there are more obese people with learning difficulties than there are people with obesity in Birmingham and Coventry combined. No national programme to tackle health inequalities in England would ignore major cities of this size yet officials running these programmes have ignored people with learning difficulties for years.

The new disability equality duty, which comes into force later this year, should help to shake off the complacency among  health service providers.

From December those who suffer disadvantage because of lazy assumptions that people like them “just die younger” will have  recourse to law under disability equality legislation. But let’s hope it doesn’t have to come to that and this excellent study provides the impetus needed for health organisations to act.

When the DRC is subsumed next year into a new over-arching body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, the needs of smaller groups like those highlighted in this report must be kept to the fore. Those involved in the disability field will be watching intently to ensure the new organisation honours pledges that the voice of less powerful lobbies will still be heard.

Additional reading
Legal threat to government over discrimination by health services

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