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Medical Treatment Was Withheld From People With Learning Disabilities During Pandemic

June 15, 2021

Medical treatment was withheld from people with learning disabilities during the pandemic, The Telegraph can disclose.

Patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 were not given potentially life-saving treatment because of their conditions.

The learning disability charity Mencap said they were aware of cases where “treatment was withheld” and this led to the patient “dying prematurely”.

The disclosure will fuel concerns about how patients with learning disabilities were treated during the pandemic and raise questions about how medics view individuals with such conditions.

Office for National Statistics figures from last year show that nearly six out of every 10 people who died with coronavirus in England were disabled.

Last week, the Telegraph revealed how patients with mental illness and learning disabilities were given “do not attempt resuscitation” (DNR) orders in England during the pandemic.

Matt Hancock pledged to investigate orders that were “inappropriately” given and said that he wanted to “know” about any cases where people may have been “disobeying the guidance”.

The Telegraph has been told about cases where people with learning disabilities did not receive some treatments during the pandemic.

Edel Harris, chief executive of the organisation, told The Telegraph that “during Covid some people did not receive the level of care they deserved when they were admitted to hospital”.

“We are aware of cases where families believe treatment was withheld because their loved one had a learning disability and, in some cases, this led to them dying prematurely”, he said.

A woman whose sister caught Covid-19 in a care home in the south of England has also alleged that her relative was denied treatment because of her disability.

Sherin Ratcliffe’s sister – who was in her 50s and had down syndrome – caught Covid-19 in the care home where she lived.  

Once in hospital, Ms Ratcliffe’s sister – whom Ms Ratcliffe has asked The Telegraph not to name – struggled to breathe.  

Ms Ratcliffe said her sister was “a jolly soul”, but had the mental age of an 18-month old and was non-verbal. She moved into the care home after her parents became too elderly to care for her.

When her sister was being treated, Ms Ratcliffe asked about use of a CPAP mask – a machine used during the pandemic to help patients breathe more easily – and a doctor said “‘it would be too distressing’ for my sister to administer more intensive treatment because they couldn’t sedate her to apply this kind of treatment, she had to be conscious for it”, she said.

A couple of days later, the hospital said that her sister’s oxygen levels had dropped further and the next step would be palliative care.

Ms Ratcliffe’s sister died on April 26.

Ms Ratcliffe said that although the hospital did their best for her sister, she was “concerned that given the pressures that they were under… it just becomes a de facto thing that for people with learning disabilities, the treatment only goes up to a certain point and then will not continue”, she said.  

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2021 6:18 am

    Reblogged this on Tory Britain! .

  2. June 15, 2021 4:28 pm

    Hi Same Difference

    I was very interested to see your email below re medical treatment and learning disability. Mencap have had a campaign going for several years now called “Death by Indifference” as being overlooked fo treatment has been a big issue for many years. I am currently trying to bring a case on behalf of my own Son Michael. Michael was born with a heart murmer which was not picked up during pre Natal assessments. I was then given a Pethidine injection during his birth, which was not followed by any antidote to Michael, who sufferd brain damage when his heart stopped during or prior to delivery. This was not documented by the delivery team at the time, or if it was, it was not mentioned, and his birth records appear to be “unraceable”, even to a Solicitor.

    Over time it became clear that Michael had a learning disability when he failed to reach the usual developmental milestones and although this could not be hidden from me, as his heart murmur had been, Michael was not offered any treatment to correct his heart problem untill he reached the age of 32 years, when it was decided he needed to have his Aortic valve replaced. I did not realise at that time that his heart was already quite worn by this time. Although Michael was offered “token” follow up appointments after his valve replacement at 32, he was never offered any real treatment, either surgical or medical, for his detiorating condition. Michael’s life was cut short at the age of 32 tears, when he died in his sleep at the age of 52 years.

    Prior to his death, Michael had enjoyed an independant lifestyle, which he lived in full, to the best of his ability, given the poor condition his heart was in. Michael lived in his own rented 2 bed bungalow, with virtually 24/7 support, funded at first by the Independant Living Fund, and later by our Local Authority. Despite his increasing heart condition, Michel had a very full programme of activities throughout the week. He had joined a drama group and was a valued member, he attended College 3 days a week, went to his local pub, theatre and cinema, on a regular basis, in addition to having dinner out once a week. Just before his sudden death I had helped Michael to enroll at a new College where other with a learning disability learned a variety of skills. Michael also went on holidays with support, twice a year, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

    Since his death, I remain convinced that had he been offered treatment for his heart condition earlier than age 32, he may have still been enjoying his life. I also firmly beleive that the reason he was not offered treatment sooner was due to his learning disability. More than this I was never made aware of the severity of Michael’s true condition, neither was he offered any advocacy advice to make him aware of his condition or to opt for treatment. I believe this was an added violation of Michael’s human rights. I currently have a case with a Solicitor, however the “Expert report” for which I paid quite a large sum, was very weak and badly written, so I am unsure of my next move at the moment and any kind of advice would be gratefully received.

    Thank you for taking the time to read Michael’s Story.

    Kind regards

    Christine Stringer.

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