JAN Sproule hasn’t taken her adult son Peter to the supermarket in months.

The 26-year-old has epilepsy, autism, asthma and Landau Kleffner syndrome, a rare condition which occurs in one child in a million.

The pair live together in Glasgow, where Peter, Jan says, “lights up my world”. She fears his complex learning disabilities mean it’s “too high risk” to take him to do the weekly shop as Covid-19 rages on.

There’s long been concern amongst families of those with such conditions, and the charities that support them, that they are at heightened risk from coronavirus. Now evidence from a specialist Scottish unit has found that’s true.

In newly published interim findings, the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory (SLDO) has found that people with learning or intellectual disabilities were “more than three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than those in the general population” during the first wave of the pandemic in Scotland.

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They were also twice as likely to become infected with the virus and to experience a “severe outcome” resulting in hospitalisation.

Compared with the period five years before the pandemic, the rise in the crude rate of deaths from all causes between late January and mid-August last year in adults with learning and intellectual disabilities was 23% higher. That rise is 2% up on results for the general population.

“People with learning or intellectual disabilities already experienced significantly worse health outcomes and excess mortality compared to the general population,” the Glasgow University unit’s interim report states. “These inequalities are reflected in the higher Covid infection rates, more severe outcomes and increased mortality experienced by adults with learning or intellectual disabilities in the first wave of the pandemic.

“Further action needs to be taken to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection for all adults with learning intellectual disabilities.”

But the SLDO notes “information on the impact of Covid-19 on people with learning or intellectual disabilities is not routinely reported in Scotland”.

Jan says this is symptomatic of a system that has “put us to one side”.

“They couldn’t care less,” she says of the Scottish Government. “That’s how I feel. They haven’t got a clue about us.”

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IT’S a position that’s “not uncommon” amongst families like Jan’s, says Lesslie Young (above), chief executive of Epilepsy Scotland. Around one in five people with epilepsy also have a learning disability and the charity is “increasingly concerned about the way people with learning disabilities are being accounted for during the pandemic”.

It wants ministers to prioritise the vaccination of all people with learning and intellectual disabilities. Currently only those with severe and profound conditions are in priority group six, while those with mild to moderate learning disability are not.

On Friday John Swinney said further guidance on vaccine priority groups is expected within the week from the UK-wide Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Its top nine priority groups for inoculation put care home residents and their carers at the top. Swinney’s words came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the case of writer Ian Rankin’s son Kit, who lives in a care facility in Edinburgh which caters for people with learning disabilities and who has not yet had his jag.

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LIKE Jan, Rankin has also accused leaders of ignoring this cohort, saying: “We keep being blithely told that care homes are at the top of the list and everybody in care homes has been treated and you are thumping the table going ‘no they’ve not’. The most vulnerable are people with learning disabilities and my son has not been vaccinated yet. Perfectly healthy 60 to 65-year-olds in Scotland are being vaccinated but not my son or the other people in his facility.”

“There is a huge feeling of anger and frustration amongst families, whether it’s a child or an adult,” Young told the Sunday National. “They do genuinely feel they are forgotten, they have been sidelined. It’s definitely not an isolated case.”

The SLDO figures are shocking but “not terribly surprising”. They follow ONS stats for England which show a fourfold increased death rate there for women with a learning disability and 3.5 times rise for men.

“This is another piece of evidence that combines with all the other evidence we have in abundance to say that people living with learning disabilities have a huge struggle to have equitable access to healthcare and social care,” Young says.

“The Scottish Government can’t but accept the evidence that’s there. It’s robust.

“The starting point for any kind of reparation is decades ago. Everything is so far behind.”

Young blames “decades of under-investment and lack of recognition of the importance of social care” for the increased mortality risk. “It doesn’t need to be like this,” she goes on. “This is a significant moment for the community we aim to support and one which will test the resolve of decision makers.”

In Glasgow, Jan and Peter dream of the chance to board a train – one of Peter’s favourite things. They’ve both just had their first jags, something Jan is “ecstatic” about. But she won’t feel confident until they, and other families like theirs, get their second. “Hopefully the Government is going to read this ... and see that people with children with a learning disability are not happy. It’s so unfair.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We understand the concerns of people with learning disabilities and their families and we are working hard to ensure they receive their vaccine.

“Many people with learning disabilities who are also judged as being clinically extremely vulnerable have now been vaccinated as part of cohort four, ahead of the target earlier this week for reaching all these people.

“There will be some who have not yet been offered a vaccination and their carers who will be vaccinated [as] part of cohort six and they should start to receive their invites from next week. Group six also includes younger adults in long-stay nursing and residential care settings, who should be prioritised for vaccination given the high risk of exposure in these settings.

“Each health board is working hard to get the vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible, and everyone eligible will be offered the vaccine as we work our way through the priority groups.

“We are committed to improving the lives of people with a learning or intellectual disability through our Keys to Life strategy.

“We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory to fully understand the implications of this research and to take any necessary action.”