Report: Disability & The Unequal Impact of Covid-19

The NHS Confederation* has published a new report looking at the unequal impact of Covid-19: investigating the effect on people with certain protected characteristics

This report maps existing research into Covid-19 inequalities onto some of these protected characteristics, showing how the pandemic has interacted with them. It also showcases four case studies of how different health and care systems have put in place interventions to respond to these inequalities when designing their Covid-19 response. It focuses on a number of key areas including the impact of Covid-19 on: BAME communities; people with disabilities; and older and younger people.

Here’s the section of the report that looks at disability:

COVID-19 and disability

The Equality Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment with a long-term adverse effect on day-to-day activities. People with disabilities in the UK have faced a greater risk of illness and death than those who do not have a disability during the pandemic. Analysis of deaths by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that between the start of the pandemic and late November 2020, disabled people accounted for six in ten deaths involving COVID-19.

Higher rate of death
Age standardised death rates involving COVID-19 for people aged between 30-100 showed those people who had reported that they had a disability in the 2011 census had a statistically significantly higher rate of death during this period, and more-disabled people had a statistically significantly higher rate of death than less-disabled people. [13]

People with a learning disability died of COVID-19 in much higher numbers than the general population at the beginning of the pandemic. Data gathered by the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review programme shows that between February and June 2020, the death rate for people with learning disabilities was 2.3 times higher than the rate in the general population over the same period.

When this is adjusted to account for under-reporting, the figure is 3.6 times higher than in the general population. During the peak three weeks of the early part of the pandemic, deaths from all causes for people with learning disabilities were three times the average for the corresponding period in the two previous years. For the general population, deaths were twice as high. The disparity was much larger in younger age groups. [14]

Impact on wellbeing
Research conducted by the ONS between March 2020 and December 2021 revealed that disabled people experienced very high levels of worry about the effect the pandemic was having on their lives, with 91 per cent reporting being very or somewhat worried in March 2020. This had decreased to 72 per cent by December 2021, but this was still higher than the lowest level of 59 per cent in June 2021. [15]

In May 2021, disabled people continued to have on average poorer wellbeing ratings than non-disabled people across four wellbeing measures (life satisfaction, feeling that things done in life are worthwhile, happiness and anxiety). Disabled people reported feeling stressed or anxious (79 per cent), making their mental health worse (50 per cent) and feeling like a burden on others (23 per cent) more frequently than non-disabled people, and around twice as many disabled people (40 per cent) reported feeling lonely than non-disabled people. [16]

Negative effect on daily lives
Analysis by the Health Foundation of ONS data covering the period between 24 September and 4 October 2020 found disabled people were more likely than non-disabled people to report that COVID-19 restrictions had negatively affected their lives, with more disabled people reporting that their relationships, access to shops and access to healthcare had been affected. They were also more likely than non-disabled people to report that their medical treatment had been disrupted during the pandemic, with only 26.9 per cent of disabled people stating that their treatment had started or continued as normal compared with 44 per cent of non-disabled people. [17]

Read the full report here

*The NHS Confederation is the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.