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Project #52:
Risks of COVID-19 hospital admission and death for people with learning disabilities - a cohort study.


This study aimed to assess the association between learning disability and risk of hospitalisation and mortality from COVID-19 in England among adults and children.

Two cohorts were assembled, reflecting the two first waves of COVID-19 experienced in the UK, comprising males and females aged up to 105 years: (1) wave 1, from 1st March 2020 until 31st August 2020; (2) wave 2, 1st September 2020 until 31st December 2020 (for admissions) or 8th February 2021 (for deaths). The main exposure group was people included on a general practice learning disability register (LDR), with a subgroup of people classified as having profound or severe learning disability. We also identified patients with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. The main outcomes were COVID-19 related death and COVID-19 related hospitalisation. Non-COVID-19 related death was also explored.

In wave 1, of 14,301,415 included individuals aged 16 and over, 90,095 (0.63%) were identified as being on the LDR. 30,173 COVID-related hospital admissions, 13,919 COVID-19 related deaths and 69,803 non-COVID deaths occurred; of which 538 (1.8%), 221 (1.6%) and 596 (0.85%) were among individuals on the LDR, respectively. Wave 1 hazard ratios for individuals on the LDR, adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity and geographical location, were 5.3 (95% confidence interval (CI) 4.9, 5.8) for COVID-19 related hospital admissions and 8.2 (95% CI: 7.1, 9.4) for COVID-19 related death. Wave 2 produced similar estimates.

Associations were stronger among those classed as severe-profound and among those in residential care. Down syndrome and cerebral palsy were associated with increased hazard of both events in both waves; Down syndrome to a much greater extent. Hazards of non-COVID-19 related death followed similar patterns with weaker associations.

People with learning disabilities have markedly increased risks of hospitalisation and mortality from COVID-19. This raised risk is over and above that seen for non-COVID causes of death. Ensuring prompt access to Covid-19 testing and health care and consideration of prioritisation for COVID-19 vaccination and other targeted preventive measures are warranted.


  • Study leads: Elizabeth Williamson
  • Organisation: University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine