The government has refused to promise MPs that it will order a separate, independent inquiry into why so many disabled people have died from coronavirus, and the role the UK government and other public bodies have played in causing those deaths.
The Commons women and equalities committee said in a report just before Christmas that an independent inquiry into the causes of the “starkly disproportionate and tragic” death rates should be held as soon as the country had gained control of the pandemic.
The committee said the inquiry should be “wide-ranging” and separate to any others investigating the pandemic, and should include an examination of how the decisions and policies of the government and other public authorities caused “adverse outcomes for disabled people”.
But in its response to the committee’s report, released yesterday and due to be debated by MPs today (Thursday), the government refused to promise a separate inquiry.
Instead, it said: “The Government has always been clear that there will be opportunities to look back, analyse and reflect on all aspects of COVID-19.
“For now, the Government is focused entirely on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and saving lives.”
Out of 15 recommendations made in the committee’s report and aimed at the UK government, it appears to have clearly accepted just four, partially accepted two more and rejected eight, while it was not clear in its response to the call for an independent inquiry if it accepted that recommendation.
Among those it rejected were recommendations on accessible information, education, social care funding, and disabled people’s access to food during the pandemic crisis.
Only last month, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, refused to apologise for as many as 24 breaches of disabled people’s rights – and probably even more – by the government in the 12 months since the first COVID-19 lockdown.
That list included the government’s decision – early in the pandemic – to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for COVID-19, causing the loss of thousands of lives of disabled and older people.
This was later mirrored by the decision of the Department of Health and Social Care to draw up a strategy that allows patients infected with COVID to be discharged from hospitals into residential homes, as part of a so-called “safe discharge” scheme regulated by the Care Quality Commission.
Another breach saw Tomlinson fail to carry out meaningful engagement with disabled people’s organisations during the early months of the pandemic, while his Disability Unit failed to provide updates on its website for months at the height of the pandemic, while thousands of disabled people were dying from COVID-19.
The Office for National Statistics has repeatedly found that about three-fifths (59 per cent) of COVID-19-related deaths in England during the pandemic have been of disabled people.
But ONS has also found that – after allowing for other factors, such as people’s underlying health conditions, or whether they live in a care home or in a less affluent part of the country – there is still a “smaller but statistically significantly raised risk of death” from COVID-19 for disabled people with higher support needs.
And it has said that it “cannot rule out the possibility of remaining explanatory factors” for the increased risk of death for disabled people, such as “access to and pathways through the healthcare system”.
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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