This report presents a selection of health status and health care utilisation indicators for New Zealanders with and without intellectual disability.
The indicators have been developed using data from a range of Ministry of Health data sets.
Definition of intellectual disability
Because of the nature of the data available, the study uses a broad definition of intellectual disability that encompasses a range of causes of this disability. For example, because age of onset could not be established from the available data, the study includes people whose intellectual disability was evident prior to adulthood, as well as some whose cognitive impairment may have started later in life and were recorded as having an intellectual disability in Ministry of Health data sets.
Internationally, studies have shown that people with intellectual disability tend to experience poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population. However, there is a distinct lack of up-to-date, New Zealand-specific health status and health care utilisation data for people with intellectual disability. This makes it difficult to evaluate the extent to which this group of New Zealanders are currently experiencing poorer health than the rest of the population.
The report’s study population consisted of 31,847 people identified as having intellectual disability and 4,261,600 people identified as not having intellectual disability.
- Altogether, 0.7 percent of the study population were classified as having intellectual disability.
- Compared to the group without intellectual disability, the group with intellectual disability included relatively high proportions of children, teenagers and people aged 85 and over.
- People with intellectual disability were also more likely to live in the most socio-economically deprived areas of New Zealand.
Questions and answers
What are the key findings of the report?
The report shows that New Zealanders with intellectual disability had poorer health and seem to be more at risk of illness, disease and death than those without intellectual disability.
These findings are consistent with international studies for this group.
The following are the report’s key findings:
- Males with intellectual disability had an average life expectancy of 59.7 years, which is more than 18 years less than the life expectancy for all New Zealand males (78.4 years).
- Females with intellectual disability had an average life expectancy of 59.5 years, which is about 23 years less than the life expectancy for all New Zealand females (82.4 years).
- Compared to people without intellectual disability, people with intellectual disability were about 1.5 times more likely to receive care or treatment for one or more of six selected chronic health conditions. They were also about 1.5 times more likely to receive care or treatment for chronic respiratory disease, almost twice as likely to receive care or treatment for coronary heart disease and were about 1.5 times more likely to receive care or treatment for cancer.
- People with intellectual disability were slightly more likely to be enrolled in a primary health organisation, nearly 1.5 times more likely to consult a general practitioner in a three-month period, and were likely to be dispensed almost twice as many different types of prescription drugs from community pharmacies.
- People with intellectual disability were over twice as likely to receive elective or arranged public hospital treatment and over four times more likely to have public hospital admissions that could have been avoided.
- On average, people with intellectual disability received $3,001 worth of government-funded primary and secondary health care per person annually, which is nearly three times higher than the same services received by people without intellectual disability ($1,028).
What do the findings mean?
The findings present both opportunities and challenges. Most people with intellectual disability are enrolled in a primary health organisation. People with intellectual disability were 1.5 times more likely to consult a GP over 3 months, compared to people without intellectual disability. People with intellectual disability were also regular users of public hospital services.
Given their regular use of health services, the challenge is to ensure that their contact with these services meet their needs adequately and seamlessly.
How will the health sector use this report to improve the health of New Zealanders with intellectual disability?
The report provides baseline data against which to measure changes in health status and effects of health interventions for people with intellectual disability. It also bridges the information gap on the health of people with intellectual disability in New Zealand.
Given this, the report could be used to influence health policy and service planning for people with intellectual disability by district health boards, primary care providers, pharmacies and other health service providers.
What initiatives are already underway in the health sector to improve the health of New Zealanders with intellectual disability?
There are a number of areas where work is progressing to help support the health sector to better respond to the needs of people with intellectual disability.
This includes work to:
- trial a Health Passport, which contains personal and health information to help health professionals working in hospitals to provide better care for the person and their families
- improve pharmacy services for people with intellectual disability who live in community residences with an emphasis on obtaining the clinical support they need with their medicines to achieve better health results
- improve the health literacy of people with disabilities (including people with intellectual disability) and their carers/family/whanau. In particular, research on interventions and approaches that may build health literacy is planned.
What else could be done, in addition to these initiatives?
The Ministry of Health is reviewing successful health programmes for people with intellectual disability both internationally and in New Zealand. This will inform decisions for the way forward.
Will more resources be allocated into services for people with intellectual disability?
Given the current fiscal constraints, our focus is to ensure existing health and disability services adequately meet the needs of people with intellectual disability.