Hospital admissions for physical conditions for people with learning disabilities


People with learning disabilities are more likely to have certain medical conditions, such as respiratory diseases and heart defects, than the general population.   As a result, they may be admitted to hospital more frequently and for different reasons than people who do not have learning disabilities.  In particular, there may be a higher rate of preventable admissions among this group.  Certain conditions which can be treated by medical care professionals within the community, and should not lead to a hospital admission, are deemed preventable admissions.  For example, if managed properly diabetes is a condition which should not lead to a hospital visit.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of my current project is to review the existing research in this field and determine if people with learning disabilities are admitted to hospital more frequently than the general population, if they are admitted for different reasons, and if there are more preventable hospital admissions for this group.

What we did

I systematically reviewed the existing literature using a range of databases from January 1960 to January 2015.  The search was conducted using key words relating to learning disabilities and hospital admissions, and articles were selected based on their relevance to my research.  A selection of the identified articles was checked by a second researcher, for quality assurance.  

What we found

After completing the search, and removing duplicate articles, 29,595 papers were initially identified.  After applying our inclusion and exclusion criteria, this was reduced to seven papers.  Four papers reported how often people with learning disabilities were admitted for preventable conditions. Results indicated that adults with learning disabilities are admitted to hospital more often than the general population. Four of the five papers that reported length of stay found that, once admitted, adult patients with learning disabilities also have a longer length of stay than other people.  Three papers reported preventable admissions for diabetes, asthma, and epilepsy related admissions. However, there was no clear pattern of admissions between the papers.  

What these findings mean

People with learning disabilities are admitted to hospital more often for preventable conditions than the general population, and when admitted for preventable conditions they remain in hospital longer.  It is unclear if the pattern of conditions they are admitted for differs from the general population, or if they experience more repeat admissions. In general the existing literature is limited, so we need to understand this better in order to inform how we can reduce admissions and repeat admissions for people with learning disabilities. The Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory is investigating this further.

For more information about this project contact Kirsty Dunn

Link to publication

Page updated 1 May 2018