Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Death by Indifference!


According to The Guardian yesterday and also according to the BBC online a campaign by Mencap on the issue of neglect of patients with a learning disability has forced the health secretary Patricia Hewitt to agree to an independent inquiry. The Mencap report (Death by Indifference) highlights six cases where people with learning disabilities were allowed to die because of a lack of proper care.

Mencap is also seeking confirmation that the long promised confidential inquiry into premature deaths of people with a learning disability will be carried out although I have seen nothing in the statements from the government to indicate that they have agreed to proceed with this.

According to the Guardian "Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, said she was shocked by the evidence that patients who had speech difficulties were denied appropriate pain relief and left to die unnecessarily"

Frankly I am shocked that she is shocked.

The evidence that there is a very real problem which needs to be tackled urgently has been out there for some considerable time.

I wrote a piece on this blog (People with learning disabilities abused by NHS) back in July 2006. That piece was specifically triggered by a report by the Healthcare Commission and Commission for Social Care Inspection there was "widespread institutional abuse of 200 people with learning disabilities living at a treatment centre in Falmouth and in 46 houses around Cornwall". This was reported on in detail at the time in the Guardian here.

I also highlighted two cases that I knew of :

(1) In Reading a cancer patient with a learning disability was left in severe pain for days on end because the staff at the hospital could not work out how to deal with her or communicate with her.

(2) In Dartford a patient was repeatedly denied the physiotherapy which she needed because she had autism. The same patient ended up staying in hospital for the best part of three months whilst Social Services and the Health Authority argued over who was to provide funding for aspects of her treatment. By the time she was discharged she could no longer walk and indeed still cannot walk - all because she did not get the treatment she needed when she needed it.

The Mencap report also mentions the Cornwall case and another one in Sutton & Merton and goes on to highlight the fact that in September 2006 the Disability Rights Commission conducted a formal investigation into physical health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities . The investigation showed that people with a learning disability were less likely to receive the healthcare they need.

The Mencap report also highlights that in 2001 the Valuing People report acknowledged that ‘health outcomes for people with learning disabilities fall short when compared with outcomes for the non-disabled population’, and identified solutions – including the need for a confidential inquiry in to premature deaths, annual health checks and staff training. The White Paper ‘Our health, Our care, Our say’ admitted that people with learning disabilities face inequalities and that ‘the NHS has historically not served such people well’.
So Patricia Hewitt why are you shocked?

This cannot be news to you and if it is then you should be looking for alternative employment.

Why has it taken so long for the government to wake up to the fact that there is a very real problem faced by those with a learning disability who try to access the NHS services which we all take for granted?

If this was happening in Romania or Panorama did an investigative piece on it there would be a national outcry.

So lets have these inquiries and let us make sure that the lessons are learnt and applied across the NHS as whole. However, Patricia Hewitt should send out and immediate message to the whole of the NHS that this sort of treatment is not acceptable and that the government expects to deliver the same standard of care to all patients regardless of whether or not they have a particular disability.

1 comment:

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