A disabled woman with high support needs has launched a legal action against NHS England, after it refused to update its policy on visitors that would prevent her being accompanied into hospital if she became ill with coronavirus.
Fleur Perry says that NHS England’s current guidance on visitors during the coronavirus crisis puts her at risk of serious harm, discriminates against her, and breaches her human rights, including her right to life.
The guidance only allows a visitor to accompany a patient into hospital in four situations: if they are in labour; if they are receiving end-of-life care; if they are visiting their child; or if they are experiencing significant mental distress.
But the guidance (PDF), issued by NHS England last month, does not allow a personal assistant or family carer to accompany a disabled person with other physical or communication support needs, even if they have been trained to meet those needs.
Perry (pictured), who has spinal muscular atrophy and receives 24-hour care when at home, says nurses would be unaware of her support needs if she was admitted to hospital, such as how to move her in a safe way; safe dosages of medication; and her medical history.
Perry said: “I’ve been in situations where NHS staff were unaware how to safely meet my health needs; but there’s always been someone there with me to make sure I’m not dropped on the floor, I’m not injured, I’m not forgotten, and I’m not overdosed on routine medication.
“Most NHS staff are not trained in how to use my equipment or how to safely move me.
“In an emergency situation, I would not be able to train every nurse I met on how to do my care, and it’s not fair to be asking nurses to do a job they’re not trained to do safely.
“I would not be safe.”
She believes the current guidance is a breach of both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act.
And her solicitor has warned NHS England that she will seek a judicial review of its existing guidance – seeking a legal declaration that it is currently unlawful – if it fails to amend it “as a matter of urgency”.
Perry wrote to NHS England last month about the policy but sought legal advice when it refused to engage meaningfully with her over her concerns.
Her solicitor Chris Fry, from Fry Law, says in a letter to NHS England: “If Ms Perry is unwell with a respiratory infection, she finds it difficult and exhausting to speak.
“In a hospital environment, Ms Perry would not be able to talk an unfamiliar nurse through her care if she had a respiratory infection.”
Fry Law believes that thousands of disabled people could be affected by the current NHS England policy on COVID-19 visitors.
In a blog on her legal action, Perry says: “Yes, I know there’s a pandemic on. And that makes this even more important.
“At a time when the NHS is having to work harder, better, faster than ever, removing those who support NHS staff is a no.
“Asking nurses to do a job they’re not trained to do is a no.
“Making disabled people frightened to go get treatment until they have no choice is a no.
“Putting disabled people at risk of harm which will require further treatment is a no.
“At any time, anywhere, ignoring anyone’s Human Rights is a No.
“This can be fixed. Two lines of text added to this visitor policy would do it. I’d even be happy to help them write it.”
NHS England had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
*Links to sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…