The government has refused to provide national guidance that would make it clear that disabled people have the same right to life-sustaining treatment as non-disabled people if they contract coronavirus.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) told lawyers for four disabled campaigners this week that there was no need for guidance on who would have priority for treatment if demand outstrips supply within the NHS in England, despite their “understandable fears and concerns”.
He said their action was “fundamentally misconceived” because there was enough capacity in the system to meet all needs for critical care during the COVID-19 pandemic – he said there were 2,657 critical care beds available on 15 April, while the number of new cases could now be decreasing – and described their concerns as “speculative and hypothetical”.
Hancock’s refusal to provide national guidance means that the four disabled campaigners will now seek legal aid for an urgent judicial review of the government’s failure.
They fear that if demand for treatment increases and they become ill with the virus, they and other disabled people will be viewed as less likely to benefit from such treatment than non-disabled people.
Doug Paulley, one of the four disabled people seeking to take the case, through the legal firm Rook Irwin Sweeney, said Hancock’s decision suggested he had “a crystal ball”.
But he said there was no guarantee that there would not be competition for critical care at some stage in the next few months.
He said: “I think he’s dodging the question and that is pretty shameful given that it’s a life and death matter for disabled people, or it will be if there is competition, and we can’t guarantee that there will not be competition.
“He can’t know for certain, and he’s gambling with disabled people’s lives.”
Paulley added: “I can’t see any downside to producing guidance. The medical staff on the frontline want it. They should not be the ones who decide who lives or dies.”
Rook Irwin Sweeney says the failure to produce guidance on how decisions will be made is discriminatory and a breach of its clients’ human rights.
The other three disabled claimants in the case are AB, a 28-year-old writer and policy advisor from London; 17-year-old Francesca Adam-Smith, whose mother is acting for her in the case; and 24-year-old William Runswick-Cole, whose mother is acting for him.
The legal action was inspired by an open letter, supported by more than 2,000 disabled people and allies, which warned that disabled people’s right to treatment in the NHS was not always being upheld during the pandemic.
*Links to sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
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