HL Deb 17 March 2005 vol 670 cc64-6WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Community (Dr Ladyman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today the first stage of a confidential inquiry into premature deaths among people with learning disabilities. The Department of Health has asked the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), which is taking responsibility for confidential inquiries from April 2005, to carry out a scoping study to establish the best way to conduct the inquiry.

The Government's White Paper Valuing People, published in 2001, included as one of its main objectives improvements in the health of people with learning disabilities. In particular, it highlighted the need to address evidence of health inequalities. The Government have taken action to address this, primarily through asking learning disability partnership boards to develop plans for health action planning in their local areas. But Valuing People also noted that there was cause for concern about evidence of avoidable illness and premature deaths, and included an undertaking to look at the feasibility of establishing a confidential inquiry into mortality among people with learning disabilities.

The department has held wide-ranging discussions with experts and stakeholders and has determined that an inquiry would not only be practicable but would also provide valuable information about the healthcare of people with learning disabilities. Healthcare for this group has also continued to be raised as a matter of concern for organisations such as Mencap and the Disability Rights Commission.

Professor Sir John Lilleyman (Medical Director, NPSA) is the lead director for confidential inquiries and will be in charge of the management of the scoping exercise. The research will be overseen, managed and commissioned by Professor Richard Lilford's team at the University of Birmingham.

Our intention is that this inquiry should be carried out in a new and more flexible style compared to previous inquiries. It will be time-limited and produce results that can then be used to inform practice. The confidential investigation of healthcare histories of people with learning disabilities will be complex, since it will in many cases need to cover care provided in a variety of settings, for example residential care homes. The scoping project I have announced today is the first step to a full-scale inquiry and will also provide valuable information in its own right about the healthcare of people with learning disabilities.