Hospital’s death fine highlights ‘two-tier’ health system


People with learning difficulties still face a “two-tier health system”, two years after an independent inquiry concluded that they received less effective treatment than non-disabled people, it has been claimed.

A leading disabled activist spoke out after a hospital trust was fined £50,000 over the death of a disabled man whose head became trapped in his bed rails.

Kyle Flack, who had learning difficulties and cerebral palsy, died at Basildon University Hospital in October 2006.

Although his head had also become trapped during a stay at the hospital the previous year, no assessment of his needs was carried out, staff had no knowledge of the previous incident, and he was only monitored at irregular intervals, said the Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted the case.

Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of its patients, and this week was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 costs.

But Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), which is run by people with learning difficulties, told Disability News Service: “How many people with learning difficulties have to die before we get good quality healthcare?”

He said people with learning difficulties still face a two-tier health system and a “lottery” on whether they were taken seriously by healthcare staff when seeking treatment for themselves or relatives.

Lee said his own experience showed little had changed since the inquiry, as he had found it “very difficult” to secure information about his wife’s care when she was admitted to hospital.

There were similar problems last week when a friend was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack.

Lee said: “The new government is talking about putting more power in the hands of doctors and nurses but they are the very people that are not giving us good accessible information.

“There is a respect and dignity issue and they need to think of us as people first and not as an inconvenience.”

Two years ago, Sir Jonathan Michael’s inquiry into access to healthcare for people with learning difficulties found “convincing evidence” that they had “higher levels of unmet need and receive less effective treatment”.

Witnesses to his inquiry had reported “appalling examples of discrimination, abuse and neglect across the range of health services”.

The inquiry was set up by the government in response to Mencap’s Death by Indifference report, which accused the NHS of institutional discrimination and told how six people with learning difficulties had died unnecessarily in NHS care.

10 June 2010

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