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Health Secretary faces legal challenge for failing patients with disabilities and autism


The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care over the repeated failure to move people with learning disabilities and autism into appropriate accommodation.

The EHRC has longstanding concerns about the rights of more than 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autism being detained in secure hospitals, often far away from home and for many years. These concerns increased significantly following the BBC’s exposure of the shocking violation of patients’ human rights at Whorlton Hall, where patients suffered horrific physical and psychological abuse.

The human rights body has now sent a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, arguing that the Department of Health and Social Care has breached the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) for failing to meet the targets set in the Transforming Care program and Building the Right Support program. These targets included moving patients from inappropriate inpatient care to community-based settings, and reducing the reliance on inpatient care for people with learning disabilities and autism.

Following discussions with the DHSC and NHS England, the EHRC is also not satisfied that new deadlines set in the NHS Long Term Plan and Planning Guidance, will be met. This suggests a systemic failure to protect the right to a private and family life, and right to live free from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “We cannot afford to miss more deadlines. We cannot afford any more Winterbourne Views or Whorlton Halls. We cannot afford to risk further abuse being inflicted on even a single more person at the distressing and horrific levels we have seen. We need the DHSC to act now.

“These are people who deserve our support and compassion, not abuse and brutality.  Inhumane and degrading treatment in place of adequate healthcare cannot be the hallmark of our society. One scandal should have been one too many.”

The DHSC has 14 days to respond to the EHRC’s pre-action letter. Alternatively, the EHRC has offered to suspend the legal process for three months if DHSC agrees to produce a timetabled action plan detailing how it will address issues such as housing and workforce shortages at both national and regional levels. The EHRC is also calling for the immediate implementation of recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Rightful Lives 8 point plan.

Alongside its discussions with DHSC, CQC and NHS England, the EHRC has been calling for an enforceable right to independent living and has developed a legal model to incorporate it into domestic law. This would protect the right of disabled people to live independently and as part of the community, and it would also strengthen the law that put a presumption in favour of living in the community and the views of individuals at the heart of decision-making.



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RCEM: Emergency Departments struggling to admit the sickest patients


Commenting on the NHS performance statistics for January 2020, which show a record number of patients staying in Emergency Departments (EDs) for over 12 hours, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson said:

“While these figures show a slight improvement in terms of the number of patients being treated within four hours, our Emergency Departments are still struggling to admit the sickest patients to ward beds.

“The latest data shows a record number of patients staying in EDs for more than 12 hours. This must be tackled urgently; long stays put lives at risk.

“Change will take time, but we still need more staff, more beds and more social care. The Clinical Review of Standards must be an opportunity to produce measures that help drive patient flow and reduce crowding.

“Measures must also be transparent and paint a true picture; the 2,846 people who waited longer than 12 hours are just the tip of the iceberg as this figure is measured from the point a decision to admit has been made, rather than their arrival at the ED.”

Dr Henderson also urged patients to be mindful of what to do if they were worried about coronavirus: “While the risk posed by coronavirus remains relatively low, due to the considerable strain on our EDs we ask all patients who think they may have symptoms to call NHS 111 before doing anything else. NHS 111 will provide information on what to do and assess if you need to be seen urgently.”



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Hft welcome the reappointment of Matt Hancock as Secretary of State for Health


Billy Davis, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Hft, commented: “We welcome Matt’s reappointment as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. At a time when the sector is facing great uncertainty, continuity at the heart of government is very welcome.

“After years of government inaction, Matt will be aware of the need for proposals for reform to be brought forward as a matter of urgency. As our latest Sector Pulse Check report found, one in five social care providers in England have been forced to cut support in the last year and one in three are having to shed staff to remain financially viable.

“At a time when demand for social care is growing, this simply cannot continue. We look forward to working with Matt in delivering these much needed reforms, and delivering the sustainable future that providers, staff and the people they support, so richly deserve.”



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Two Labour MPs ditch public engagements after attending coronavirus scare bus summit


Nottingham South MP Lillian Greenwood and Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel both confirmed they were being formally tested for the condition after attending the UK Bus Summit earlier this month.

An attendee at the Westminster event later tested positive for coronavirus, the flu-like epidemic which has been designated as a public health risk by the World Health Organisation since it emerged in China’s Hubei province late last month.

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Mr Sobel’s statement read: “As has been reported, I attended the UK Bus Summit on the February 6, where there was an attendee who has tested positive for coronavirus.

“Whilst I have been informed that I am at very low risk, I have called 111 to be formally assessed.
“As a precaution, we have cancelled all engagements until next Thursday when the 14-day potential incubation period will end.

“If you think you may have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus, self-isolate and call 111 for an assessment.”

Ms Greenwood, who spoke at the summit earlier this month, meanwhile confirmed she was “cancelling my public engagements until 20th February” after receiving advice from Public Health England, which is leading the UK’s response to the virus.

While the Labour MP said she was feeling “completely well”, she shared a copy of the letter from PHE, which advises receipients to take “a precautionary approach”.

The health body said: “We are contacting you to inform you that a person with confirmed Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) attended the UK Bus Summit at the QEII Centre London on 6th February 2020.

“One of our main priorities has been to identify any people who we think have been in close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to provide public health advice, as they may be at slightly increased risk of catching the virus.”

It added: “While the degree of contact you may have had with the case at the summit is unlikely to have been significant, we are taking a precautionary approach and informing you.”

Nine patients in the UK have so far tested positive for the coronavirus. Public Health England is currently advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days who experiences flu-like symptoms to stay indoors and contact NHS 111.

The Government has already declared the virus an “imminent threat” to public health, and new powers allocated to ministers this week mean authorities can place new restrictions on any individual considered by health professionals to be at risk of spreading it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons on Tuesday: “Dealing with this disease is a marathon, not a sprint. The situation will get worse before it gets better. We will be guided by the science. Be in no doubt: we will do everything that is effective to tackle this virus and keep people safe.”

The virus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province.



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The Royal Osteoporosis Society responds to the Government’s plan to scrap visas for low-skilled workers


Restricting the number of visas for overseas social care workers amid claims of the Government’s major immigration shake-up could lead to even more people not being able to remain independent and in their own homes following a fracture.

Alison Doyle, Head of Operations and Clinical Practice at The Royal Osteoporosis Society, says, “Limiting the number of low-skilled care workers who offer significant value to those who need the care will severely affect the ability of people who have recently suffered a fracture, often caused by osteoporosis, to stay in their own homes and live well.”

It is estimated that in the UK, there are more than 500,000 fragility fractures every year – that’s one every minute or 1,400 a day.

“The effect that a shortage of social care workers could have is further illustrated by the fact that just 22% of people with osteoporosis think the NHS gives the condition the attention it deserves, and one in three people in long-term pain from fractures describe it as severe or unbearable,” says Ms Doyle.

“In addition, figures show that one in three people who have fractured have difficulty with domestic chores, highlighting the importance of assistance received from social care workers even more.”

The Royal Osteoporosis Society calls on the government to reconsider its aim of ending visas for low-skilled workers as it will most certainly affect critical social care provision.

The Royal Osteoporosis Society is the only UK-wide charity dedicated to improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis. The charity works to raise awareness of and prevent osteoporosis by encouraging people to take positive steps to build their bone health.



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Baroness Finlay: We must utilise the skills of refugee doctors


This week’s news of 900,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Syria threw into focus the terrible plight of the innocent. Amongst many fleeing are health care workers, displaced and unable to practice at all, their experience wisdom and skills gradually dwindle in the cycle of despair that is the fate of so many. By contrast here in the UK, we bemoan our shortage of healthcare staff, yet efforts to support healthcare professionals coming here as refugees or asylum seekers seem paltry and uncoordinated. Often, they have fled with nothing – no papers to show they are qualified, no-one to vouch for them and no way to access their university records to prove their qualifications. Some of these are Christian or other minority religious groups, fleeing the double jeopardy of religious persecution as well as civil wars.

These healthcare professionals are desperate to work, desperate to support their families and above all desperate to live in peace and contribute to doing all they can for the most vulnerable humans they encounter.

These doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists and related professionals are refugees from many countries, not only Syria. According to the UNHCR lists, there are currently 1,182 Iraqi doctors in camps in Jordan alone. Many have been trained in English; some have undertaken postgraduate training in the UK at some time before 2016. Yet they are not allowed to work in Jordan.

Proven good English language is essential to being registered in the UK to work as a healthcare professional. Some doctors pass the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), others take the newer Occupational English Language test. But sitting these exams costs money. And passing them is the first of many hurdles, including verification of their professional qualifications to obtain professional registration, developing familiarity with the application process, and securing a post in an approved practice setting with a designated body for revalidation of the professional registration.

Often, they have fled with nothing – with no papers to show they are qualified”

The General Medical Council supports refugee doctors by allowing them two free attempts at Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) part 1 knowledge exam and then two attempts at the part 2 exam at 50% of the normal fee, with a flexible approach to paying professional registration fees once registered. The GMC also fund the verification of primary medical qualifications through the US Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, a compulsory requirement for all doctors who have qualified outside the EEA. Other registration bodies should follow their example.

The British Medical Association has brought together UK volunteers who have organised small refugee support schemes. Wales, Scotland, Lincolnshire, the North West and the North East of England have been supporting refugee doctors into NHS employment. Nine years’ worth of data published from London’s multiagency collaboration (the Building Bridges Programme) showed high rates of success overall with professionals settling in their own or in related healthcare professional positions in the NHS.

The UK’s healthcare professionals’ regulatory bodies should follow the GMC’s example. A lead agency is needed to ensure that wherever in the UK a refugee health care professional finds him or herself, support is available.

We have a staffing crisis in the NHS. It will take years for our own new graduates to come through. It is unethical to drain doctors, nurses and others from countries whose staff shortages are worse than ours. But shouldn’t we let highly skilled refugees have a chance to contribute, rather than leave them forgotten, in camps?

 

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff’s Oral Question on the case for accepting refugee doctors to the UK is scheduled for Monday 24 February



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Baroness Finlay: We must utilise the skills of refugee doctors


This week’s news of 900,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Syria threw into focus the terrible plight of the innocent. Amongst many fleeing are health care workers, displaced and unable to practice at all, their experience wisdom and skills gradually dwindle in the cycle of despair that is the fate of so many. By contrast here in the UK, we bemoan our shortage of healthcare staff, yet efforts to support healthcare professionals coming here as refugees or asylum seekers seem paltry and uncoordinated. Often, they have fled with nothing – no papers to show they are qualified, no-one to vouch for them and no way to access their university records to prove their qualifications. Some of these are Christian or other minority religious groups, fleeing the double jeopardy of religious persecution as well as civil wars.

These healthcare professionals are desperate to work, desperate to support their families and above all desperate to live in peace and contribute to doing all they can for the most vulnerable humans they encounter.

These doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, physiotherapists and related professionals are refugees from many countries, not only Syria. According to the UNHCR lists, there are currently 1,182 Iraqi doctors in camps in Jordan alone. Many have been trained in English; some have undertaken postgraduate training in the UK at some time before 2016. Yet they are not allowed to work in Jordan.

Proven good English language is essential to being registered in the UK to work as a healthcare professional. Some doctors pass the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), others take the newer Occupational English Language test. But sitting these exams costs money. And passing them is the first of many hurdles, including verification of their professional qualifications to obtain professional registration, developing familiarity with the application process, and securing a post in an approved practice setting with a designated body for revalidation of the professional registration.

Often, they have fled with nothing – with no papers to show they are qualified”

The General Medical Council supports refugee doctors by allowing them two free attempts at Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) part 1 knowledge exam and then two attempts at the part 2 exam at 50% of the normal fee, with a flexible approach to paying professional registration fees once registered. The GMC also fund the verification of primary medical qualifications through the US Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, a compulsory requirement for all doctors who have qualified outside the EEA. Other registration bodies should follow their example.

The British Medical Association has brought together UK volunteers who have organised small refugee support schemes. Wales, Scotland, Lincolnshire, the North West and the North East of England have been supporting refugee doctors into NHS employment. Nine years’ worth of data published from London’s multiagency collaboration (the Building Bridges Programme) showed high rates of success overall with professionals settling in their own or in related healthcare professional positions in the NHS.

The UK’s healthcare professionals’ regulatory bodies should follow the GMC’s example. A lead agency is needed to ensure that wherever in the UK a refugee health care professional finds him or herself, support is available.

We have a staffing crisis in the NHS. It will take years for our own new graduates to come through. It is unethical to drain doctors, nurses and others from countries whose staff shortages are worse than ours. But shouldn’t we let highly skilled refugees have a chance to contribute, rather than leave them forgotten, in camps?

 

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff’s Oral Question on the case for accepting refugee doctors to the UK is scheduled for Monday 24 February



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