Health inequalities for people with learning disabilities: why it matters and what emergency physicians need to know

Andrew C.K. Lee*, Elizabeth Herrieven, Neil A. Harrower

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


People with learning disabilities die on average 16years earlier than the general population in England. They are a vulnerable group and may have unhealthy lifestyles and multimorbidity that lead to poor health outcomes. Worryingly, premature deaths are also more common and these often have contributory healthcare causes. This may be a result of staff lacking awareness, expertise and experience managing people with learning disabilities, the lack of reasonable adjustments, or discriminatory attitudes. Other issues include polypharmacy and inappropriate prescribing of sedatives, inappropriate use of do not resuscitate orders, and diagnostic overshadowing leading to delayed or misdiagnoses. Emergency physicians need to be aware of subtle or atypical presentations of illnesses such as sepsis. Carers and family can be vital informants, helping clinicians to interpret subtle signs and aid communication with people with learning disabilities. One simple approach to reasonable adjustments, as required by law, is the TEACH mnemonic: people with learning disabilities need more time (T), in a conducive environment (E), with clinicians approaching them with the right attitude (A) and an open mind. Good communication (C) is essential and clinicians must make every attempt to understand their patients and to be understood by their patients. Finally clinicians need to consider what 'help' (H) the patient and their carers or family needs. With the right approach, time and environment, emergency physicians can optimise the care delivered to people with learning disabilities to address their needs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Hospital Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 MA Healthcare Ltd.


  • Emergency care
  • Emergency medicine
  • Health inequality
  • Learning disability
  • Reasonable adjustment


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