People with learning disabilities to receive coronavirus vaccine sooner

In recent weeks, discussions about the prioritisation that is used to determine how soon people will be offered the coronavirus vaccine have been taking place. Members of the Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN) in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) and the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service‘s Coping During Covid group have been meeting frequently to discuss this. Both groups were concerned that ‘Cohort 6’ 1 included a very narrow definition of ’serious mental illness’, and did not prioritise people with learning disabilities.

Members of IMHN and BASS worked together to raise their concerns with local health commissioners, who in turn escalated these to NHS England’s clinical reference group, alongside national charities who have also been campaigning on this issue.

Last week it was announced that adults with severe and profound learning disabilities, and those with learning disabilities in long-stay nursing and residential care settings, should be offered the vaccine more quickly in England. 2 This advice was issued by the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (‘JCVI’).

However, the current prioritisation that determines how quickly people receive the vaccination does not include people with learning disabilities who are not on a GP’s Learning Disability Register. The current guidance also adopts a narrow and unclear definition for ‘serious mental illness’, by limiting the category to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment. 3 All mental illnesses have the potential to cause severe functional impairment, and therefore additional guidance should be issued to ensure that people who live with all types of mental health conditions are given the priority they need.


Tom Renhard, Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Mental Health Network, said:

“Wednesday’s announcement is a step in the right direction to ensure that people who live with learning disabilities are able to access the vaccine following the work of tireless campaigners across the country. There is also more work to be done to ensure additional groups of potentially vulnerable individuals are prioritised urgently.

We would welcome a swift clarification to ensure that those with a severe and enduring mental health problem can be given access to the vaccine without delay beyond the current existing narrow definition being applied.”


Ben Argo, member of IMHN’s BNSSG Mental Health Lived Experience Steering Group and Peer Mentor at BASS, said:

“We welcome the JCVI’s recent decision to add all people on the Learning Disabilities Register to priority group 6, but believe this does not go far enough. The definitions continue to completely overlook autism spectrum disorder, and do not adequately identify people with severe mental illness.

Our work has demonstrated that mental health patients have a loud voice and will not sit idly by while vulnerable people are systematically overlooked.

Thanks to the hard work of the Lived Experience Steering Group, LGBTQ+ Steering Group, and service users from the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service, we have made clear our concerns about the strict definitions used for prioritisation of people for vaccination against COVID-19. It was well received by the CCG’s Insights Team and Clinical Delivery Group that it was decided important enough to refer to the more senior Clinical Reference Group.”


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Notes to editors

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What is the Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN)?

IMHN are a member-led organisation that work for and in the interests of people with lived experience of mental health. The network supports work improving local mental health services, contributing and campaigning on mental health matters happening both locally and nationally. IMHN actively challenges mental health stigma by working with partner organisations.


What is the Mental Health Lived Experience Steering Group?

The Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Mental Health Lived Experience Steering Groupis a group of people from across the area that have lived experience of mental health. The group ensures that the views of people with lived experience are heard by mental health organisations and health commissioners when changing or improving local support. The group has recently inputted into the design of the local 24/7 Support & Connect mental health counselling telephone line, and is actively supporting the development of the local community mental health transformation programme.


What is the LGBTQ+ Mental Health Lived Experience Steering Group?

The Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire LGBTQ+ Mental Health Lived Experience Steering Group is a working group in which members can discuss issues, challenges and opportunities particular to the mental wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people. The group is focusing on changing and developing mental health support, with the aim to drive positive change for the LGBTQ+ community within services.


What is the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service (BASS)?

BASS Autism Services for Adults provide a service to adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and professionals and carers who support them. This is a service that is run by the Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. Click here to read more about them.


How can I find more about IMHN?

You can sign up to IMHN’s mailing list by clicking here. Find out more about the organisation and how to join as a member by visiting 

March 2, 2021 at 4:14 pm