The Duchess of Edinburgh, Sophie, has recently shown her support for Mencap, a learning disability charity, by attending their inaugural health inequalities summit at St Bartholomew's Hospital. The Duchess has been Mencap's royal patron for almost two decades, and she has previously run 1.5 miles of the virtual London Marathon in Windsor in 2020 in support of the charity.
At the summit, health leaders and campaigners came together to discuss the healthcare inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities, including life expectancy, avoidable deaths, and other barriers to accessing healthcare. The Duchess heard from various speakers, including NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard, Mencap Chair Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, and campaigners like Cath Horbury and Paula McGowan.
The Duchess also met with Treat Me Well campaigners and people involved in the Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training, where she learned about the ongoing work being done to improve the treatment of people with learning disabilities. Mencap's Treat Me Well campaign, which launched in February 2018, aims to transform how the NHS treats people with learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, the 2020 Learning Disability Mortality Review highlighted the appalling levels of premature mortality and avoidable deaths experienced by people with learning disabilities. On average, people with learning disabilities die 25 years younger than the general population, and 49% of deaths of people with learning disabilities were judged avoidable, compared to 22% for the general population.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, chair of the Royal Mencap Society, expressed her hope that the summit would be the first step towards a shared plan to tackle the shocking levels of premature death and health inequalities that people with learning disabilities continue to face. She emphasized that people with learning disabilities have a right to access good quality and timely care that meets their needs and helps support them to live happy and healthy lives.
One of the attendees at the summit, Michelle Ornstein, a Treat Me Well campaigner, spoke about her group's efforts to promote annual health checks and encourage people to sign up to the learning disability register. She felt strongly that other people with learning disabilities needed to know what a difference some small steps could make to their lives. Ornstein was very grateful to have met the Duchess of Edinburgh and to see everyone working together to make changes.
The Duchess's engagement at the summit followed her visit to HMS Daring in Portsmouth and attending the Easter Sunday church service in Windsor with her husband and son. Her continued support for Mencap and their work is admirable and inspiring, and we hope that her efforts will help to bring about positive change for people with learning disabilities.