Disability royal commission told of hundreds of preventable deaths

Matt Woodley

20/02/2020 3:54:10 PM

Around 400 Australian adults with intellectual disability die each year from potentially avoidable causes.

Disability royal commission hearing
The royal commission heard people with intellectual disability die from potentially avoidable causes at a rate more than double the general population. (Image: AAP)

While giving evidence at the royal commission, Chair of Intellectual Disability Mental Health at UNSW Professor Julian Trollor said the current healthcare system is not equipped to meet the complex needs of people with intellectual disability.
Professor Trollor said people with intellectual disability are dying from similar things to most Australians, but there is a large gap when it comes to the proportion of potentially avoidable deaths.
‘I estimate that between the ages of 20 and upward, about 400 Australians with intellectual disability will die annually from a potentially avoidable death,’ he said.
‘I think that is a huge issue that speaks to the lack of equipping of people with disability with the knowledge they need to access health services, a lack of vision in policy and a lack of vision in health service provision for people with disability that ultimately leads to tragic outcomes like that.’
Professor Trollor added that for every story the royal commission hears about the death of a person with cognitive disability, there are many more nationally.
Recent UNSW research found 38% of deaths of people with intellectual disability were from potentially avoidable causes, more than double that experienced by the general population.
‘Poor access to healthcare across the lifespan of people with an intellectual disability ultimately results in premature death for many,’ Professor Trellor said ahead of the hearing.
‘Our research indicates that the average age of death for an adult cohort with intellectual disability in NSW was 27 years lower than that of the general population, and that the rate of death in people with intellectual disability was four times higher than the general population for people aged 20 to 45 years.’
Royal commission Chair Ronald Sackville QC said the evidence points to a diminished quality of life for people with cognitive disability if they have illnesses that should have been diagnosed and treated, but were not.
Professor Trollor believes Australia’s current healthcare landscape is not prepared for the needs of people with developmental disabilities.
‘This lack of preparedness manifests on every level – primary, specialist and acute care settings – and in services across the life span from childhood to later life,’ he said.
‘Such systemic lack of preparedness is a major contributor to the stark mental and physical health disadvantage experienced by people with developmental disabilities compared to the general Australian population.’
Overall, people with intellectual disability in Australia have a lower life expectancy than the general population.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is holding public hearings in Sydney until the end of February.
It will subsequently hold other public hearings and community engagement events on numerous dates across the east coast of Australia and in the Northern Territory until mid-June.
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