The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have announced that it is taking action against 13 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups whose continuing healthcare policies discriminate against severely disabled people. NHS Continuing Healthcare provides vital life sustaining care for severely disabled people, yet the policies are failing to consider the specific needs of individual people and are forcing severely disabled people into accepting unsafe levels of care or to live in a residential care home. The EHRC believes that this is a a serious breach of the Human Rights Act, the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Department of Health and Social Care’s own NHS CHC framework.

This is more than just an obscure policy issue. Spinal Injuries Association sees on a daily basis the impact of these policies on severely disabled people – such as those who rely on a ventilator to breathe, who have very high levels of disability and who need 24 hour care. They hear depressing tales of overnight care being arbitrarily cut to unsafe levels and people being threatened with incarceration in care homes if they do not accept care packages that do not meet their needs.

The EHRC’s decision to take action is part of rapidly increasing concerns at how NHS Continuing Healthcare is managed and delivered. In July 2017 the National Audit office published a critical report  which highlighted widespread regional variations in eligibility criteria, lengthy delays in assessments and arbitrary cuts to care packages. Last month, the Public Account Committee also published its own report  and is demanding that NHS England account for its shortcomings and explain how it intends to save £855 million from NHS Continuing Healthcare without compromising standards of care.

Spinal Injuries Association welcomes legal action against NHS organisations who discriminate against severely disabled people.

Spinal Injuries Association welcomes today’s decision by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to take action against 13 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) whose policies are preventing severely disabled people from leading independent, fulfilled lives.

Dan Burden Head of Public Affairs at Spinal Injuries Association, said. “This is a welcome move in holding tax payer funded NHS CCGs to account for their deliberate failure to consider the specific needs of severely disabled people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission action is a further endorsement of the findings of the both the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office; that the provision of NHS funded care for the most severely disabled people is deeply flawed and fails to take account of an individual’s specific needs. CCGs are under considerable pressure to reduce the costs of care, but severely disabled people are lawfully entitled to such care and these cuts – with more planned – are reducing care provision to unacceptable and unsafe standards. There are instances of overnight care being removed and we are receiving examples of people who have been threatened with a move out of their own home and into residential care. That’s a bad deal for patients but also for the taxpayer and the NHS as we know that severely disabled people deprived of the right care will inevitably end up in A and E or in a hospital ward at far greater cost.

The tremendous pressures that this broken system places on the most severely disabled people will only get worse if NHS England carries through its plans to make £855 million of cuts which will inevitably put people at risk by forcing them to live with unsafe levels of care.

The specific needs of individual patients must be considered during the decision making process. We are calling for a system that places the patient at the heart of decision making. If disabled people are able to live at home with their families and wish to do so, they should be able to – and not forced against their will into care homes – breaking up families, and taking away hope for the future.