The government has again failed to show how it will protect disabled people who need electricity to run lifesaving medical equipment in their homes if there are power blackouts this winter, despite serious concerns being raised by public health experts.
The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) has told Disability News Service (DNS) of its concern that some people who rely on power for heat and critical medical equipment in their homes “may suffer as a result of disruption to those services” if supplies are temporarily cut over the winter.
ADPH has told DNS that it is not aware of any “national contingency plans” that have been put in place by the government.
This follows concerns raised by one integrated care board, which told DNS that no national guidance or support around the issue has been sent to the NHS in England by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Despite the disabled peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton being told that a Cabinet Office minister was now coordinating the government’s preparations for possible winter blackouts, the Cabinet Office passed DNS’s questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
BEIS has repeatedly failed to provide anything but the vaguest of briefings about what will happen to those who rely on medical equipment in their own homes.
BEIS again failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
Baroness Brinton said last week: “It’s evident to me that everyone in government and health thinks this is someone else’s responsibility, which is exactly why nothing is happening.”
This is now the fifth consecutive week that DNS has attempted – unsuccessfully – to obtain evidence that plans to protect disabled people will be in place in the event of three-hour blackouts this winter.
The power-cuts are said to be unlikely but possible.
In a statement to DNS, Professor Jim McManus, president of ADPH, said: “It is absolutely vital that, in order to protect vulnerable members of our communities, directors of public health are able to work with the NHS, local government departments and voluntary organisations to identify people who may be at risk of harm should the National Grid’s worst-case scenario be realised.
“We are concerned that if power supplies are temporarily cut in the coming months, some people who rely on power for heat and critical medical equipment in their homes may suffer as a result of disruption to those services.
“Currently, we are not aware of any national contingency plans and unfortunately, any local or regional planning is limited by restrictions on data sharing between agencies.
“Directors of public health are ready to work collaboratively at a national, regional and local level to help develop a coherent, effective plan to protect those people who will be affected most.”
Last week, the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told DNS that she was alarmed at the apparent failure to plan for the impact of possible widespread winter power cuts on people who rely on medical equipment at home.
She said: “It does concern me greatly both on a personal level, as someone who depends on electricity to literally survive, and on behalf of my fellow disabled people in similar circumstances.”
Charities that represent people with long-term health conditions have also told DNS that they are concerned about the lack of information coming from the government and other organisations.
Even local resilience forums, the multi-agency networks set up across England and Wales to ensure each area is prepared for emergencies, have been unable to provide evidence that suitable plans are in place.
So far, the only clear advice for disabled people who rely on equipment in their homes such as ventilators, dialysis machines, or fridges to keep medication cold, is that they should sign up to their energy provider’s Priority Services Register.
They may then be given advance notice of a power cut, could have priority support for emergency cooking and heating facilities if their electricity is cut off, and may be signposted to charities such as Red Cross for “hot meals and drinks”.
Any other support they might be able to secure is not yet clear.
Those with concerns have been told to “seek advice from their local health service provider”.
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