The DRC report was based on research
into eight million primary care records, plus one health board in
Wales and three England primary care trusts.
The research found people with mental
health problems, particularly those diagnosed with a severe mental
illness (SMI), have higher rates of obesity, smoking, heart disease,
diabetes, respiratory disease, and stroke than the rest of the population.
Specifically, it found that women
diagnosed with schizophrenia are 42% more likely to get breast cancer,
and that people diagnosed
with schizophrenia are 90 per cent more likely to have bowel cancer,
the second most common killer disease in Britain.
Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC,
said: "Our investigation has revealed shocking levels of ill
health among people with learning disabilities and people with mental
health problems, yet their needs are often unmet or they face unnecessary
barriers to accessing services."
The DRC has accused the health service
of discrimination. Almost half of disabled and mentally ill respondents
in a DRC survey complained of “barriers” when arranging
to see their GP – such as derogatory reception staff, inflexible
appointment systems, lack of knowledge on the side-effects of powerful
psychiatric medication, or being struck off from GP lists for being
The DRC’s report, entitled
Equal Treatment: Closing the Gap, calls nationally for learning
disabled people and those with mental health problems to be targeted
for health checks and for an end to “diagnostic over-shadowing”
whereby professionals effectively ignore a person’s physical
ill health by presuming every ailment is related to their mental
The health minister Rosie Winterton said she agreed with the “broad
thrust” of the raft of DRC recommendations.
She highlighted that, in August, £7m was allocated to eight
primary care trusts to employ “well-being” nurses to
work in partnership with GPs, health and mental health staff to
deliver health checks and blood tests to SMI people, advise them
on diet and exercise, and support them to access primary care services.
Yet, the DRC says that if there
is no genuine improvement, the NHS could feel the force of the Disability
From December, a “Disability
Equality Duty” means disabled patients and those diagnosed
with a mental illness could sue trusts for not making “reasonable
adjustments” in providing equal access to primary care services.
Such “reasonable adjustments”
might mean GPs – or nurses - having to give more consultation
time to people with difficulty retaining information, or ensuring
that people with agoraphobia do not have to wait in a busy GP waiting
The Department of Health said a
response to the DRC report will be published early next year.
Disability Rights Commission's report, Equal Treatment: Closing