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

Press contact/enquiries:

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

In recent months, local mental health organisations and service providers have come together from across the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) area to form the BNSSG Mental Health & Wellbeing Cell. This Cell is part of a wider structure in the South West that is co-ordinating the health and social care response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN) and its branches in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, are supporting the Cell’s work, by facilitating a Lived Experience Steering Group. This group scrutinises the work of the Mental Health & Wellbeing Cell, in order to ensure that people with lived experience of both mental health and accessing mental health services are able to help shape what the Cell is doing.

We are looking for people with lived experience of mental health and accessing mental health services; who live in either the Bristol, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire areas; to join this steering group as representatives.

Representatives will attend fortnightly steering group meetings (that may move to monthly frequency in the future). The steering group will comment on, evaluate, and feedback into various pieces of work being undertaken by the wider Cell. A participation payment of £25 per two-hour meeting will be paid to representatives.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please click here to fill out a form to express your interest. 

At the third question, please select ‘Bristol North Somerset & South Gloucestershire – COVID-19 Lived Experience Steering Group.’

We are particularly interested in receiving applications from LGBTQ+; or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

If you have any questions, please email engagement[at], and a member of the team will get back to you.

July 20, 2020 at 10:35 pm

The Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN) have launched a survey, asking for people’s experiences about accessing mental health support within the last few weeks.

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, we know how vital it is to ensure that people are able to access timely and effective mental health support.

IMHN want to hear from you about your experiences at the moment, so we can make local services and funders aware of what people’s experiences are so that action can be taken.

Click here to access the survey.

April 9, 2020 at 10:45 am

The Independent Mental Health Network are building a guide to local mental health services and organisations in Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire.

The guide brings together service updates about how these organisations have been affected by the measures being taken to tackle the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and whether they have changed how they are running at the moment.

The webpages also include signposting information about other related organisations and support, both locally and nationally.

To access the guide, click here.

March 23, 2020 at 9:19 am

Many people take medication; some people take medication for their mental health, some people for their physical health, and many people for both. The Independent Mental Health Network (IMHN) has been seeking guidance on behalf of people who take medication, particularly those that receive repeat prescriptions.

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG has been in touch with us to confirm the current recommendations, which are listed below:

  • the NHS recommends that members of the public can continue to access community pharmacies as normal unless they are displaying symptoms, such as a high temperature or new continuous cough.
  • if you are self-isolating and cannot access the pharmacy for repeat prescriptions, please friends and/or family for support or use for advice
  • the public area encouraged to order repeat prescriptions as usual, with 7-10 days of medicine remaining

The NHS is also asking the public not to stockpile medicines or ask for more medicines than they need.

“Stockpiling or purchasing medication that isn’t needed could disadvantage other patients who can’t get essential medication when they need it. There is also a bigger risk of shortages if stockpiling disrupts the normal supply chain. The NHS is ensuring pharmacists are being provided with a greater supply of paracetamol to support demand.”

IMHN will continue to share updates if the situation changes. We are now seeking guidance on behalf of those who receive short-term prescriptions (for example, people who have recently started courses of antidepressant medication).


March 20, 2020 at 12:12 pm