Revealed: ‘Learning disabilities’ given as reason to not resuscitate 19 patients

The Sunday Times has revealed that 19 hospital patients who later died were given Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders because they had learning disabilities or Down’s syndrome.

A leaked report from the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review programme recommended that doctors should never issue a DNR order on such grounds.

The newspaper suggested the number of DNRs given to those with learning disabilities could be much higher, as only a quarter of reviews into the 4,302 deaths reported between July 2016 and December 2018 had been completed by the end of last year.

“directly contributed to their cause of death”

Falling short

The review analysed data to examine how care for those with disabilities could be improved.

Researchers found that eight per cent of adults with learning disabilities who had died had been given “care that fell so short of good practice that it significantly impacted on their wellbeing or directly contributed to their cause of death”.

The average age of death for people with learning disabilities was 60 for men and 59 for women.

This compares to the average life expectancy of 79 for men and 83 for women.


Paula McGowan lost her teenage son Oliver in 2016 as a direct result of negligence in treatment.

She said: “We were living this lovely, normal life and then Oliver was taken into hospital with a seizure and given medication he should never have had.”

“The public thinks that if you have a diagnosis of intellectual disability or autism, you will die early anyway.

“That’s not the case. We need to highlight that these are treatable conditions and that some patients are dying because they’re not getting the right healthcare.”

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