People with learning disabilities in Essex dying ‘shockingly’ young

The average lifespan for people with learning disabilities in Essex has fallen to a figure described as “shockingly low” by the director of public health for Essex.

The number of people whose death was reported to the Learning from Lives and Deaths (LeDeR) Programme in 2022/23 was 113 – a similar number to the previous year when 116 deaths were notified.

But median average age of death for adults across Southend, Essex and Thurrock in 2022/23 of was 57 – a drop from 65.5 last year.

LeDeR says the reasons are not fully understood. Although it has had a few notifications for the deaths of very young adults who may have initially been unexpected to die in childhood. This may have lowered the average age at death for adults.

LeDeR also believes that some of the oldest adults died during the Covid pandemic, who might otherwise have died in 22/23. Therefore some of the oldest people could be “missing” from this year’s numbers.

However, the numbers have been seized on by Lucy Wightman, director of wellbeing, public health and communities at Essex County Council.

She said at an Essex Health and Wellbeing Board on September 20: “Despite the fact that Covid is likely to have taken out some of the older cohort it is still a shockingly low average age for deaths and looking at the cause of death it does feel like many of them are preventable. There’s just offer from public health for us to do a more forensic vaccination campaign this year.

“Obviously we see the news that the new variant of Covid is starting to impact on hospital admissions as well.”

The top cause of death has been recorded as aspiration pneumonia, which is a type of pneumonia that’s caused by bacteria entering the lungs and causing a severe infection. This bacteria usually enters lungs when we accidentally breathe in food, fluid or saliva.

She said: “The other thing I’d question is have we got enough speech and language therapy capacity.

“I’m just noting that the aspiration pneumonia obviously is the top cause recognizing that might be secondary to another infection or Illness.”

LeDeR was set up to look at why people with a learning disability were dying at a younger age compared to the rest of the general population. The findings are used to help make changes locally and nationally to improve the health of people with a learning disability and reduce health inequalities.

The LeDeR programme reviews all deaths of people with learning disability and autistic people whose deaths are notified and seeks to identify improvements to health and social care which could prevent premature deaths and deliver equity of access to services.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter