So I’ve just about recovered from all of the excitement of London 2012 and now the Paralympians are coming to town! One really sad note is the passing of Lord (Alf) Morris who I know would have loved to have seen our disabled athletes in action on home soil. His contribution to equal rights for disabled people was enormous and we have him to thank for so many things that we now take for granted. For example before Alf’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s bill became law severely disabled young people who required residential support or nursing care found themselves living on or being treated in geriatric wards. His bill also brought in the blue badge scheme, access to public buildings. Local Authorities were made responsible for the provision of welfare services and housing extending to providing practical assistance for people in their own homes, meals provided at home or community centres, and the adaptation of houses to meet peoples needs.
In the first decade of the Act members of the Post Office Engineering Union installed 70,000 telephone lines in their spare time for a nominal charge of 2p per fitting which was then donated to disability charities. Parts of the old GPO transformed into BT and they are now one of the main sponsors of the London Paralympic Games. Alf would have been so proud.
Watchdog backs DNS call for national audit of ‘out-of-area’ placements
The care watchdog has backed calls for a national audit to find out how many people with learning difficulties have been abandoned in institutions far from their original homes.
The call for an audit was made by Disability News Service (DNS) after last week’s publication of a serious case review (SCR) into the “appalling and systematically brutal” abuse that took place at Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning difficulties.
The SCR criticised the practice of sending people with learning difficulties to institutions far from their home areas.
John Pring, editor of DNS, first suggested a national audit in 2003, and repeated the call last year in his bookLongcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal, which details his 17-year investigation into the institutional abuse of adults with learning difficulties at the Longcare homes in Buckinghamshire.
In the book, he raises concerns that thousands of people with learning difficulties appear to have been sent to live in institutions hundreds of miles from their original homes.
Many of these people were former patients of the old long-stay hospitals that began to be closed in the 1980s, and were simply abandoned in their new homes, which were often so far away from where they had been brought up that they received no visits, either from social workers or family members.
Many campaigners and social care professionals share these concerns, and believe such placements have put people at much higher risk of abuse, as was the case with Winterbourne View.
The call for a national audit was backed by Dame Philippa Russell, a member of the independent inquiry into the Longcare scandal, chair of the Standing Commission on Carers, and a former commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission, who has a son with learning difficulties.
She says in the book that there is a “desperate” need for national evidence of “what is actually happening” with out-of-area placements.
Neither the Care Quality Commission (CQC) nor the Department of Health (DH) was prepared to comment on the need for a national audit when DNS approached them last year.
CQC admitted at the time that it had no idea how many people had been abandoned in placements far from home, a question, it said, that was “not easy to answer with available data”.
But this week, following the Winterbourne View SCR, CQC said that, although the issue of out-of-area placements was “a matter for the Department of Health and commissioning bodies… we do believe an audit of the provision of out-of-area care would be a good idea”.
A CQC spokesman said its inspections of 150 services for people with learning difficulties, carried out after the Winterbourne View allegations were first aired last year, showed “too many people were in services away from their families and homes”.
He added: “We believe much remains to be done to ensure people with learning disabilities are provided with care in community settings close to their homes.”
A DH spokesman told DNS this week that the issue of out-of-area placements was under consideration but that he couldn’t pre-empt the department’s final report on Winterbourne View, expected later this year.
London 2012: Royal Mail thinks again on Paralympic stamps
Royal Mail has agreed to produce individual stamps to mark every gold medal won by British athletes during the London 2012 Paralympics, following pressure from leading Paralympians and campaigners.
It had faced criticism last week when it emerged that it was intending to bring out just six stamps to mark the achievements of all the ParalympicsGB gold-medallists, even though it had produced individual stamps to celebrate every one of Team GB’s 29 Olympic gold medals.
It blamed “logistical” problems, claiming far more gold medals were expected from Britain’s Paralympians than its Olympians, and over a shorter time period.
But this week Royal Mail announced that it was “pulling out all the stops” to produce individual stamps for every British Paralympic gold medal.
Because it expects as many as 60 gold medals over the 11 days of the games, Royal Mail pledged to have the stamps on sale at 518 post offices across the UK within five working days of each victory, before rolling them out eventually to another 5,000 branches.
Rower Naomi Riches, who last week said individual stamps would be another step towards giving Paralympic athletes “as much credit for their achievements as Olympic athletes”, praised Royal Mail’s about-turn, which she said would make a win “even more special” and help raise the profile of Paralympic sport.
She had previously suggested to Royal Mail that athletes would be happy to “wait a little longer” for individual stamps.
But Riches said it was now important to focus on “what we need to do in the next two weeks to put ourselves in the best position to win that gold so that we can sit on the start line and know that we have done all we can and can put in our best performance”.
Royal Mail had already announced that it would paint an extra post-box gold in the home town of every British Paralympic gold medallist – just as it has done with the Olympics – and set up a £200,000 prize fund to be split between all gold medal-winners, which is believed to be a similar amount to its Olympic fund.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, who was critical of the original decision not to produce individual stamps for Paralympians, praised the “very impressive” part that Riches had played in persuading Royal Mail to change its mind.
She said it was important that Paralympic athletes themselves had played a part in over-turning the decision, because “they are the role models, the ones who carry the legacy and who in 20 years’ time are going to be talking about the fact that their faces were on the stamps, inspiring the next generation”.
She said the amount of public support for the idea of individual stamps had been “overwhelming”.
Mish Tullar, Royal Mail’s director of media relations, said: “Following the success of our Olympics gold medal stamps and with clear public demand for individual Paralympic gold medal stamps, and from our Paralympians themselves, we’re pulling out all the stops to deliver these too.”
Andrew Hammond, managing director of Royal Mail Stamps, said the Paralympics gold medal stamps programme would be “the greatest logistical challenge in stamps production ever undertaken by any postal administration”.
The British Paralympic Association, which had welcomed Royal Mail’s original plans for just six stamps, said it was “delighted that the offer has been increased”.
Solar Centre accused will finally face court
Four former staff members are to be charged with ill-treating people with learning difficulties at an NHS day centre – more than five years after the alleged abuse took place – thanks to a two-year Disability News Service (DNS) campaign.
The three former care assistants and a physiotherapist will appear in court to be charged with a total of 38 offences of ill-treatment and neglect of 18 men and women with learning difficulties and high support needs at the Solar Centre, a day centre in the grounds of St Catherine’s Hospital, Doncaster.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided to review the case for the third time last autumn after being approached by DNS.
Care workers James Hinds, Susan Murphy, Julie Burge and physiotherapist Michael Barnard will now all be charged with offences under the Mental Health Act. Hinds faces 14 charges, Murphy 13, Burge three and Barnard eight.
Relatives of the 18 former service-users told DNS they were relieved that the allegations would finally be tested in court.
Adrian Milnes, whose step-son Richie Rowe was one of the disabled men allegedly abused at the day centre, welcomed the announcement by the CPS, and thanked DNS for pushing for the case to be re-examined.
He said his family had been in a “war of attrition” over the last five years in trying to persuade the police and CPS to ensure the allegations were tested in court.
He said: “Our disappointment that it has taken five years to come to this is only exceeded by our elation that we are finally there. The fact that there are 38 charges speaks volumes about the extent of the allegations.”
Wendy Magill, whose sister Maxine Hughes was another of the alleged victims, said she was “overjoyed” that the allegations would be aired in court.
She said: “It has been a long time. It was March 2007 when we were first notified of the allegations.”
She said the process of dealing with the authorities over the past five years had been “totally soul-destroying”.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, and Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, both asked to be kept informed of progress on the case by civil servants after being contacted last autumn by DNS.
Hinds and Murphy are due to appear at Doncaster Magistrates Court on 31 August, while Burge and Barnard will appear at the same court on 14 September.
Government retrieves care funding reform from the long grass
The government appears set to finally act over the funding of long-term care and support, according to reports this week.
Last month, the Conservative health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said it was an “inescapable conclusion” that final decisions on funding reforms recommended by the Dilnot Commission could only be made as part of the next spending review, expected in 2013 or 2014.
Lansley said the principles for reform would be based on Dilnot’s recommendations, but only “if a way to pay for it can be found”.
It is widely believed that George Osborne, the Conservative chancellor, blocked moves to fund the Dilnot recommendations.
But The Independent reported today (Thursday) that the prime minister had told his cabinet before their summer break: “We’ve got to do Dilnot.”
According to the newspaper, senior sources within both coalition parties said plans to fund Dilnot’s recommendations would be announced this autumn and included in a new version of the draft care and support bill that was published last month.
But Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the user-led Shaping Our Lives network, said he believed the coalition’s move was a result of “desperation with its own political difficulties” rather than a belief that Dilnot was the right solution to the care funding crisis.
He said that, although Dilnot had behaved “in a very creditable way”, his proposals would not provide “a long-term solution” to the social care funding crisis, while it would also be crucial to see the detail of any eventual government announcement.
He said service-users and carers did not need “coded messages” but “a really very clear commitment to dealing effectively and for the long term with social care funding”.
He added: “We do need to wait and see, but I do not feel encouraged.”
At present, those with assets above £23,250 have to meet all of the costs of their care and support themselves, but Dilnot suggested raising this for older people to £100,000, and imposing a cap of between £25,000 and £50,000 on the amount any individual should pay towards their lifetime adult social care costs.
Although the media focus has been on the funding of older people’s care, the Dilnot report also included proposals to introduce free care and support for life for all those with “eligible needs” who become disabled before the age of 40.
The commission said that those who become disabled after the age of 40 would be expected to make some contribution towards their lifetime care costs, with the total amount they were expected to pay rising by about £10,000 per decade.
The government has accepted this measure in principle, although the age at which contributions would begin to kick in has not yet been decided, and could be higher or lower than 40.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “As we made clear when we published our progress report on care and support funding reform, the government supports the principles of a capped cost model as recommended by the Dilnot Commission.
“We are continuing to explore a range of options for funding such a system, and as we have said, any proposal which includes extra public spending must be considered alongside other priorities at the spending review.
“Today’s press speculation is entirely consistent with the approach we have already set out.”
Number 10 has so far declined to comment.
Nicklinson court ruling means assisted suicide is set for parliamentary return
Anti-euthanasia campaigners have welcomed a high court decision to reject the legal bids of two disabled men who want to loosen the laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Tony Nicklinson, from Wiltshire, was seeking to give doctors the power to kill him at a time of his choosing, and has already said he will appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.
Because he has “locked-in syndrome” and is paralysed from the neck-down following a stroke, he would need a doctor or another person to carry out the act.
Nicklinson wanted the court to declare that it would be legal – on the common law grounds of “necessity” – for a doctor to kill him, if sanctioned by the courts in advance. At present, such an act would be seen as murder.
The other man, identified only as “Martin”, also has locked-in syndrome following a stroke and wanted the director of public prosecutions to amend assisted suicide guidance to allow care or health professionals to help him end his life. He is also considering an appeal.
Lord Justice Toulson, one of three judges who heard the two cases, said they presented society with “legal and ethical questions of the most difficult kind” and that “their desire to have control over the ending of their lives demands the most careful and sympathetic consideration”.
But he said that allowing their claims would have “consequences far beyond the present cases”.
He said it was “not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place” because these were “matters for Parliament to decide”.
Mr Justice Royce agreed, and said that for judges to change the law “would be to usurp the function of Parliament”.
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of the disabled people’s organisation Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), which campaigns against legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, expressed sympathy with both men’s situation but said he was “relieved” with the court’s judgment.
He said: “The judges have made a clear statement that the law cannot be changed in court. I would be very surprised if any appeal to a higher court had any different result.
“They found that in law there is no place for them to go, and that’s right.”
He said that although NDY UK was “deeply distressed” about the two men’s “despair”, it was “still very relieved that the courts found that the danger to other disabled people would be too great a risk to take”.
And he said he hoped that when parliament did consider the issue again – with the Labour peer Lord Falconer set to introduce another bill that would legalise assisted suicide – politicians would “understand all the complexity of the arguments and come to the same decision as the courts”.
In statements, Nicklinson said he was “saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery”, while Martin said he felt “even more angry and frustrated now having had this court tell me that I cannot receive professional help to take control of how I might end my own life”.
The two cases are just the latest in a string of legal claims and parliamentary actions aimed at increasing pressure on MPs, peers and the courts to move towards weakening the laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia.
CQC boss refuses to quit over board member’s mental health claims
The chair of the care watchdog has refused to resign after casting doubt on the mental health of a whistleblowing member of her board who raised concerns about the way the organisation was being run.
Dame Jo Williams has repeatedly been criticised for her performance as chair of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) since she was appointed in 2010.
But this week, a member of CQC’s board, Kay Sheldon, told The Independent newspaper that Dame Jo had commissioned an occupational health doctor to assess her mental health after she spoke out at the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal.
Sheldon, who has been open about her own experience of mental distress, told the inquiry last November of her “grave concerns and worries” about CQC’s leadership and “absence of strategic direction”.
She said in a statement to the inquiry how Dame Jo had repeatedly raised concerns about her mental health after she became distressed during a meeting.
Sheldon told the inquiry that she began to feel “victimised” by repeated references to her mental health, whether she was healthy enough to continue in her job, and the impact her mental health might have on CQC.
She told The Independent that after she spoke out at the inquiry, Dame Jo wrote to health secretary Andrew Lansley asking for her to be suspended and “urgently” replaced.
Dame Jo then commissioned an assessment from an occupational health doctor who, on the basis of a brief telephone conversation, suggested that Sheldon might have “paranoid schizophrenia”.
Weeks later, a Department of Health review vindicated Sheldon’s decision to speak out when it reported “operational and strategic difficulties” at CQC which had “seriously challenged public confidence in its role”.
CQC’s chief executive, Cynthia Bower, subsequently announced her resignation, but Dame Jo stayed in her role.
The new revelations also cast doubt on CQC’s own public support for whistleblowers, in the wake of its failure to take action after a nurse passed on allegations of serious abuse at Winterbourne View, a hospital for people with learning difficulties near Bristol.
The Commons health select committee later described CQC’s actions on Winterbourne View as “woefully inadequate”.
Sheldon told The Independent that CQC bosses had been “trying to discredit me as either mad or bad, as mentally ill or a troublemaker”.
She said: “I am very open about my mental health problems, but it feels like they tried to use it against me – this is a public body meant to be protecting people, it was completely outrageous.”
A CQC spokeswoman said she was unable to comment fully on Sheldon’s allegations because of “ongoing legal proceedings”.
But she said: “Dame Jo sought occupational health advice, [but that] certainly wasn’t with the intention of blaming anything on anybody. [She was] trying to offer the support she needed.”
And she said CQC did not want Sheldon’s comments to “undermine” its support for other whistleblowers “in any way”.
She added: “Kay is part of our board and we want to make that relationship work. She obviously doesn’t feel we have done everything we can. We would want to move forward from that and try to work together better.”
She added: “I do not think that [Dame Jo] has any intention of resigning.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “I do not believe we are considering [Dame Jo’s] position.”
She added, in a written statement: “The secretary of state considered carefully Kay Sheldon’s position and decided that she should remain part of the CQC board.
“The CQC has a central role to play in protecting the public and ensuring the standards of health and social care and we are committed to ensuring that it has a strong and effective board.
“The secretary of state was always clear that Kay Sheldon would suffer no detriment from giving evidence to the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry.
“We are unable to comment on the detail of any individual case or process as this would be a breach of confidentiality.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com