‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Notices Given to Vulnerable COVID Patients Sparks Outrage

by DailyHealthPost Editorial

Last year, ‘do not resuscitate’ orders were wrongly issued to some care home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic, causing potentially avoidable deaths. The practice was widely criticized and condemned. Yet, people with learning disabilities are now receiving the same treatment during the second wave of the pandemic.

As early as January, people with learning disabilities were already being told that they would not be resuscitated if they were taken ill with Covid-19, reported Mencap. The Royal Mencap Society is a charity based in the United Kingdom that works with people with a learning disability. 

‘Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation’ (DNACPR) are usually made for people who are too frail to benefit from CPR. However, some individuals were being issued DNACPR simply because they had a learning disability. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is due to publish a report on the practice within weeks.


The disclosure comes as there is mounting pressure on policymakers to reconsider a decision to not give people with learning disabilities priority for vaccinations. Although people with Down syndrome will be able to receive the vaccine soon, those who were classified in lower categories of need will have to wait. People with a mild disability are more likely to die if they contract the coronavirus.

Data released by the NHS show that since the start of the third lockdown, Covid-19 accounted for 65% of deaths of people with learning disabilities. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the rate for the general population was 39%, although the two statistics are drawn from different measurements. Younger people with learning disabilities aged 18 to 34 are 30 times more likely to die of Covid than others the same age, according to Public Health England.

Edel Harris, Mencap’s chief executive, said: “Throughout the pandemic many people with a learning disability have faced shocking discrimination and obstacles to accessing healthcare, with inappropriate Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation notices put on their files and cuts made to their social care support.”

Fewer than two in five people with a learning disability live until they are 65. “It’s unacceptable that within a group of people hit so hard by the pandemic, and who even before Covid died on average over 20 years younger than the general population, many are left feeling scared and wondering why they have been left out, added Harris.

“The JCVI and government must act now to help save the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people by urgently prioritizing all people with a learning disability for the vaccine.”

An analysis by the Office for National Statistics found that six in 10 Covid deaths are from people with a disability.


“Doctors often don’t understand that someone with learning disabilities may not be able to communicate their symptoms,” said Dr. Keri-Michèle Lodge, a consultant in learning disability psychiatry in Leeds. “Carers are sometimes not listened to – you might notice something is wrong, but that is often written off as part of their behaviour.”