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Calls for clarity from Government over planning for young disabled people

Simpson Millar issued a letter before action on behalf of the mother of a child with a number of complex health and learning disabilities calling on the government to put in place clear plans to ensure the needs of young 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 leaves 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 is currently seeking to remain open. 

In a letter before action (LBA) issued by leading public law experts at Simpson Millar on their behalf the government was urged to confirm its strategy for ‘meeting the needs of young disabled people (children and working age adults) in the context of the current pandemic’. 

While the government addressed some of the concerns raised within the letter during the Covid 19 press conference that took place on Wednesday March 18th which have been welcomed by the family, the family’s lawyer says a number of key issues are yet to be dealt with.

Dan Rosenberg, an education lawyer at Simpson Millar, said that there remained a ‘lack of clarity and reassurance’ that the Government ‘has a grip’ on a serious matter that significantly impacts thousands of families. 

He says: “The government has committed to more testing, but we’re looking for clarification that testing for those working in Health, Care and Education will take place.”

Young disabled people playing on hill

Rachel said: “In our personal circumstances I know that there are many specialist teaching assistants at Francesca’s school that are trained in, for example, Makaton or the specialist feeding provision needed for those with complex conditions who are currently off self-isolating due to this outbreak.  The reality is that these people or people close to them may be displaying symptoms but are just suffering from a minor cold or chest infection. Without clarity on when and if they will receive testing, how do we know? Similarly, there are healthcare professionals in hospitals who are in the same boat, leaving our front-line provisions hugely understaffed. I’m worried that if vulnerable individuals such as Francesca, or even myself, need care as a result of exposure there may not be enough people there to look after us.”

While welcoming the fact that the Government has confirmed that there will still be education for those with EHCPs, as part of a further letter to the government issued Simpson Millar sought further clarification regarding any additional support for parents looking after severely disabled children such as Francesca who cannot take them to education either because of health issues, or because relevant staff are not able to get to school.

While also 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.  

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.

“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. 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.”

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