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Learning disability and Northern Ireland: Achieving proportionate universalism through administrative data research

Research overview

The research team aims to find and use learning disability records in Northern Ireland, to create a strategy for recording and identifying learning disability, to create guidelines for supporting people with learning disabilities, and to establish an evidence base for future research and tackle health inequalities for this group in Northern Ireland.


Public benefit

People with learning disabilities are more likely to have major illnesses, develop them earlier, and die of them sooner than the population as a whole – and less likely to get the annual health checks and treatments they need. This research aims to reduce those health inequalities.


More about the project

A recent public health strategy published by the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety entitled ‘Fit and Well – Changing Lives (2012-2022)’ has shown that people with a learning disability (LD) represent one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Northern Ireland (NI). In fact evidence shows that those with a LD across the United Kingdom (UK) are more likely to experience major illnesses, to develop them earlier, and die of them sooner than the population as a whole. Furthermore, even with such a worrying health profile, the LD population is less likely to get some of the evidence-based annual health checks and treatments they need, and continue to face real barriers in accessing services. Most alarming however is the apparent invisibility of LD. Evidence suggests that such inequity often exists and persists among this population because they remain unseen.

A multi-disciplinary team comprising SDAI funded academic researchers from Ulster University (UU), world leading LD researchers from UU, University of Bristol (UofB), and the Learning Disabilities Observatory Team, Public Health England and senior representatives from the Public Health Agency (PHA), the Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) the statutory sector (ARC, Positive Futures) and a LD service user group (COMPASS) aim to exploit, link and maximise the use of existing NI administrative data to (i) begin to expose, exploit and explore LD records wherever they reside in existing Northern Irish (NI) administrative datasets (ii) begin to consider best practice in, and strategize for, the future recording and identification of LD in NI (iii) formulate guidelines to tailor, target and implement support for individuals with LD across NI and (iv) establish an administrative data evidence base upon which to build future research, facilitate future data sharing and enable ongoing action to reduce the health inequalities faced by the LD population in NI.


Date approved: March 2016


Project Team 

Jamie Murphy (Ulster University, PI)

Orla McBride (Ulster University, CI)

Mark Shevlin (Ulster University, CI)

Laurence Taggart (Ulster University, CI)

Pauline Heslop (University of Bristol, CI)

Gyles Glover (Public Health England, CI)

Roy McConkey (Ulster University, CI)


Page last updated: 24/10/2017