People with disabilities and their families have reacted with shock and anger to a report which has found that people with learning disabilities in Britain were told they would not be resuscitated if they were taken ill with Covid-19.

Mencap, a charity which advocates for people with learning disabilities, said that even in January 2021, it was still receiving reports of people with disabilities being told that they would not be resuscitated if they were suffering ill-effects from the coronavirus.

Mencap told the Guardian that it seemed those orders were given simply because the patient had a learning difficulty. They described the revelations as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.

The claim comes in the wake of an investigation by the statutory watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, who said in December that the blanket use of DNACPRs – orders not to attempt to restart a person’s heart if their heart stops beating or they stop breathing – had led to “potentially unavoidable deaths” for older people and people with disabilities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought existing inequalities into sharp focus,” they wrote. “The blanket and inappropriate use of DNACPR and poor individual clinical decision making must be seen in the context of decisions and steps that limit older and
disabled people’s access to hospital, including to critical care, for necessary treatment for COVID-19 and other conditions.”

“This could have had an impact, including potentially avoidable death, on older people and disabled people living in care homes, including those with physical and sensory impairments, people with a learning disability or cognitive impairments such as dementia.”

The Care Quality Commission will issue a full report on the practice this month, but Mencap says that despite the release of the draft report of the investigation in December, it continued to receive reports that people with learning disabilities were still being told that they would not be resuscitated if they were seriously ill with Covid-19.

The Commission found that DNACPR orders had been put in place without consulting the patient or the family.

The British National Health Service says Covid-19 accounted for 65% of deaths of people with learning disabilities during the third lockdown.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The apparent discrimination against people with learning disabilities, as found in this case, is shocking. The Department of Health is certainly saying all the right things in terms of its condemning of this practice, but that it happened in the first place and, according to Mencap at least, appears to still be happening to some degree, is atrocious”.