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Covid: Lack Of Ventilator Supplies ‘Hit’ Disabled People

November 9, 2020

Some disabled people in the UK have been struggling to obtain essentials such as medication and breathing equipment during the Covid pandemic, research for the BBC suggests.

Some 60% of those who rely on social care told a YouGov survey they were finding it hard to obtain at least one of their necessities.

Charity WellChild said people felt more “forgotten than they ever have been”.

But ministers say the needs of disabled people were being considered.

The Department of Health and Social Care says it has sufficient stocks and patients should contact their local care provider.

Like one in 20 of those survey respondents who receive social care, Fi Anderson, a mother of two with muscular dystrophy from Bolton in Greater Manchester, said she has faced problems obtaining breathing apparatus.

Her local hospital told her to re-use the filter for her portable ventilator, recommending she boil it, because supplies were so short.

She ended up using a dirty filter for six months when it should be changed every day.

“I appreciate the government is in a difficult position and is trying to increase the supply, but it’s not happening fast enough. It’s putting us at increased risk of hospitalisation,” she said.

“I’m scared I will end up with pneumonia from using dirty filters too long and the girls will end up without a mum.”

Disabled people who rely on social care – which funds equipment and other support to allow them to live independent lives – also said they had struggled to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks.

Many of them receive funding directly to employ carers in their home, so they also need to provide them with PPE during the coronavirus crisis.

The survey, which the BBC commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, asked more than 1,000 people about life in the UK with a disability and how it has changed in the shadow of a pandemic.

More than 65% felt their rights had regressed, and 71% said disabled people’s needs had been overlooked.

The Coronavirus Act, which granted the government emergency powers, gave local councils the ability to reduce care, education and mental health provision for disabled people if it became necessary during the pandemic.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, nearly six out of 10 deaths from Covid-19 were of disabled people.

‘Lack of contingency planning’

Tara Parker, director of programmes at WellChild, criticised the government for failing to recognise the needs of disabled people.

She said: “It’s a complete lack of contingency planning and thought about disabled people and their families.

“They’ve struggled with the right PPE, access to their usual therapies, respite, across the board, there has been a lack of clarity for disabled people what their path should be through this pandemic.”

Many of the nurses at Wellchild working with disabled children and young people who use ventilators report that they are experiencing problems with the supply of vital equipment, Ms Parker said.

She said this has happened despite reassurances from the government that there would not be problems in the event of a second wave.

Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, defended the government’s record and said it had sought to create “good awareness” of disability issues to ensure “our support is inclusive”.

He said the government is developing a national strategy for disabled people, which is setting challenges for each department to “remove barriers in society and help create a more inclusive society”.

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