We know little about how people with a learning disability access secondary health care.
To describe the epidemiology of learning disability, the influence of deprivation on prevalence and the pattern of secondary care uptake, including the effect of institutionalisation.
A record-linkage study of secondary care contacts of 434 000 people between 1991 and 1997. A population with learning disability was identified; their secondary care contact was calculated and compared with the general population's.
The distribution of people with a learning disability (n = 1595) correlated significantly with deprivation. The presence of a learning disability hospital significantly affected care uptake. Place of residence also affected acute admission to the learning disability hospital. Former institution residents generated 212 admissions per 1000 patients; community patients generated 18 per 1000. The admission rate with any psychiatric diagnosis to any setting was 26.3 per 1000 people with a learning disability; 16.5% of such patients had a dual diagnosis.
Health provision for people with a learning disability is affected by institutional provision.
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