A lack of nutrition, hydration, pain relief and a general deficit in the level of nursing care provided to disabled people has resulted in 74 needless deaths so far in the UK. 'Death by indifference: 74 deaths and counting' is a report published by Mencap this week on the disgraceful situation. I have a special interest in disability issues because I am Chair of a charity called Powerhouse for women with learning disabilities.
The report ought to come with a warning of the anger that one will feel upon reading it, especially when one considers the context for the report. In 2007 Mencap published a report of a similar title which reported of the deaths of 6 people due to a lack of care by the authorities. An investigation was subsequently conducted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and safety measures were implemented. Five years later the problem seems to be a growing one rather than one being actively tackled.
One of the case studies in the report is about David Tait who died aged 49. He had a moderate to severe learning disability and lived in a supported living service. He had strong family connections and went on holidays with them. He loved Christmas. One day David suffered 3 seizures and was rushed to hospital with an abnormal heart rhythm reading done by the ambulance staff. Unfortunately, this report was not given to the hospital. David's mother tried to tell the hospital about this but David was only treated for asthma rather than for his heart problem. He died of a heart attack 12 days before Christmas in 2010.
The Equality Act 2010 was passed to make disability a protected characteristic. What this means in practice is that a disabled person cannot legally be treated any different from an able bodied person. What the contents of Mencap's report shows, however, is that no amount of legal rules can act as a barrier to discrimination. Instead, there is a huge deficit in our society of discrimination and apathy towards people with learning disabilities who are suffering from the three strikes of: (a) hate crime; (b)welfare cuts; and (c) poor medical care.
We do not all need to function in the same way and look the same to be valued and treated as human beings.