Lawyers representing the mother of a child with a number of complex health and learning disabilities have today called on the UK Government to put in place clear plans to ensure the needs of younger disabled people are met, including reviewing its policy and practice of not testing health and care workers for Covid-19.
17-year-old Francesca Adam-Smith has significant underlying health difficulties, as well as severe learning difficulties, which leave her more susceptible to disease than others; and more likely to be adversely affected and require hospitalisation if she contracts Covid-19.
Her mother Rachel who also has an underlying congenital heart condition is also particularly vulnerable were she to contract the virus. On medical advice, Francesca is not currently attending her special school, although it currently remains open.
In a Letter Before Action issued by leading Public Law Solicitors at Simpson Millar on their behalf, the Government was urged to confirm its strategy for ‘meeting the needs of younger disabled people (children and working age adults) in the context of the current pandemic’.
It calls on the Government to publish its policy in relation to this matter within 72 hours, addressing ‘special school closure and how care and support to this cohort can be maintained during the pandemic’.
The letter raises several concerns, including that the lack of testing of health and social care workers who work with vulnerable children may be putting people at risk as it will:
- Not identify those who are carrying the virus
- Force those who do not have Covid-19 (and those who previously have had it) to self-isolate in line with the Government guidelines regarding symptoms and exposure resulting in greater shortages of key staff than need be the case
While acknowledging that the Government is dealing with the major crisis at hand, the letter calls for reassurance that this issue, which ‘will affect tens of thousands of families with children with significant learning and health difficulties, if not more’ is being addressed as a priority.
The Letter Before Action goes on to ask for confirmation that the Government will urgently review the position as to testing all health and care workers.
A response is expected on 18.03.2020.
Rachel, who lives in Yorkshire said: “Having sought medical advice on the matter I feel I have had to take my daughter out of school to keep us both safe.
“Staff shortages will be an issue anyway, however, as long as there is no confirmation of who is infected and therefore needs to go into isolation vs those who have simple cold symptoms but are otherwise fit and healthy serious staff shortages feel like an inevitability.
“I desperately want some reassurance that the Government has a plan of action for my family, and other families facing the same challenges."
"I know this is a very challenging time for everyone, but I have real concerns that due to the lack of testing taking place outside of a hospital environment we do not know whether or not those who help to care for Francesca – have, or are free from, the virus."
Dan Rosenberg, a Public Law and Education Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar said, “Ms Adam-Smith is calling on the Government to review its policy or practice of not testing health or care workers as she has concerns that this failing forms part of a broader failure to put in place any specific planning to address the needs of younger disabled children and adults, as distinct from older people as a vulnerable group.
“This matter affects tens of thousands of families, and if one also includes families caring for disabled adults of working age with significant learning and health difficulties (where the issues are similar but for the fact that they are not normally in school) the numbers are even larger.”