Obama and Cameron discuss disabled hacker

The prime minister and the US president, Barack Obama, have discussed the case of disabled computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who faces the threat of extradition to the United States.

The two leaders discussed McKinnon’s case during their meeting at the White House this week, and in a subsequent televised press conference.

If extradited, McKinnon, who has Asperger’s syndrome, faces a trial for allegedly hacking into US defense department computer systems, and a possible prison sentence of 60 years if convicted.

David Cameron said he hoped a “way through” could be found in the case but that he understood McKinnon was accused of “a very important and significant crime”.

Obama said he hoped the matter could be “resolved in a way that underscores the seriousness of the issue but also underscores the fact that we work together and we can find an appropriate solution”.

Cameron later told the BBC that discussions between the UK and the US ambassador about the case had started under the Labour government and were continuing.

He appeared to suggest that these discussions were focused on allowing McKinnon to serve “some” of any prison sentence handed to him by a US court in a British prison. But this would still mean extraditing him to the US to stand trial.

Cameron said discussions had been taking place “to see if there isn’t some way of dealing with this case where perhaps the sentence is given in America but some of the – if there is a prison sentence – is served in a British prison”.

Cameron and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, were among senior coalition figures who criticised the Labour government’s failure to stop McKinnon’s extradition when they were in opposition.

Home secretary Theresa May has asked for more time to consider McKinnon’s case, before the high court rules on whether the previous government was right to refuse to halt the extradition.

Last November, the then home secretary Alan Johnson decided the extradition could go ahead after considering new evidence relating to McKinnon’s mental health, which suggested he was highly likely to try to kill himself if extradited.

Johnson told MPs at the time that extraditing McKinnon would not breach his rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.

The high court is due to consider whether Johnson should have halted the extradition in the light of the new evidence.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Football cat cruelty advert cleared by watchdog

The advertising watchdog has ruled that a TV advert that features a blind footballer accidentally kicking a cat is not offensive and does not need to be taken off air.

More than 1,000 viewers complained to the advertising watchdog about the advert for the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power – so far seen by an estimated ten million adults – which features two blind football teams using a ball with a bell inside it.

When the ball is kicked out of play, a cat with a bell around its neck runs onto the pitch, and is kicked into a tree by a player who mistakes it for the ball.

Of those who complained, 220 viewers said it was offensive to blind people while more than 1,000 complained on the grounds of animal cruelty.

Paddy Power told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad “enabled them to promote and create awareness of a lesser-known sport”, “would enhance appreciation of the skill required by those who participated in the sport” and was “humorous and slapstick in nature”.

The company claimed it had received “extremely positive feedback from the blind and partially sighted community”.

The ASA claimed the ad “featured, and was supported by members of the England Blind Football Team” and that it was “unlikely to be seen by most viewers as malicious or to imply that blind people were likely to cause harm to animals”.

It concluded that the ad was “unlikely to be seen as humiliating, stigmatising or undermining to blind people and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence”.

It ruled that Paddy Power had not breached the advertising standards code, either in its depiction of blind people or in its treatment of cruelty to animals.

A spokesman for the Football Association (FA), football’s governing body, which supports the national blind football squad, said only former international players had taken part in the advert, and so the part of the ASA ruling that said the advert was supported by members of the England team was “not strictly accurate”.

But no-one from the FA was available to comment further on the ASA ruling.

The world blind football championship is due to take place in England from 14 to 22 August.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Cavan is making the fleadh accessible to all

More than 50 businesses in Cavan town are making real effort to improve their accessibility to customers with a disability in advance of the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in the county town next month.

A joint initiative between the Fleadh Executive Committee, local authorities, the Cavan Chamber and the business community, launched this week, will make Cavan more accessible and those with disabilities will be able to see clearly – through the use of sticker signage in windows – the level of accessibility that various business premises offer. This includes a first for the Fleadh Cheoil and a first for Ireland.

“Accessibility has always been high on the agenda for Cavan County Council and we hope that the fleadh will be a part of that as well.” That was the pledge from Michael Mussi, the local authority official charged with making Cavan town as accessible as possible to everyone during Fleadh 2010 including wheelchair users, those with limited mobility, hearing or vision impairments.

“In Ireland, one in ten people have some form of disability or limited mobility,” he explained. And with at least 200,000 visitors expected in Cavan during fleadh week, it translates that about 20,000 people will be relying on good access to make the most of the event.

Cavan County Council, with the approval of the ‘Disabledgo’ organisation and with National Lottery funding has developed this initiative.

DisabledGo is an award-winning disability organisation that has been in operation since 2000. It produces online access guides (www.disabledgo.com) to a huge range of venues, including 500 venues and services throughout Co. Cavan.

“Having this information on view to pedestrians ensures that people with limited mobility or visual or hearing impairment can see at a glance whether a bar, restaurant or shop meets their needs without having to physically go in and ask,” said Mr. Mussi.

Pacelli Lynch, the chairman of Cavan Chamber, described the accessibility initiative as a “win-win situation” for the local authority, people with disabilities and businesses.

“There is no question that ensuring everyone has access to proper facilities is the right thing to do, but it is more than just an equality issue – the economic benefits are significant. Around one in ten people nationally have some form of disability and during the fleadh week this equates to around 20,000 people in Cavan town needing information on access to bars, restaurants and various retail outlets. As a result, the businesses displaying these symbols will be better placed to benefit from their custom,” he said. Eligibility to participate in this initiative is dependant upon whether a premises has been assessed by the ‘Disabledgo’ organisation. If your business is based in Cavan town and you want to determine whether it is eligible to participate, please contact Michael, Cavan County Council on 049-4378409.

But it’s not just businesses that will be accessible during fleadh week – competition venues, campsites, parking, public toilets – huge efforts have been made to ensure accessibility in all these areas. Mr. Mussi concedes that with an event of this scale, it’s necessary to use a number of premises as competition venues such as schools and old buildings. Where is has not been possible to install ramps or address accessibility issues in certain areas, Mr. Mussi explains that all stewards and marshals have been trained and are fully aware of access issues and will give every assistance to those with a disability.

by Linda O’Reilly

Care commission starts work under shadow of funding cuts

Disabled campaigners have welcomed the new commission that will examine the funding of adult care and support in England, despite concerns that the government could have already ruled out some methods of funding the system.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said the government was “determined to build a funding system that is fair, affordable and sustainable”.

But Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health secretary, warned that the new system would have to be “consistent with the government’s deficit reduction plan”.

And he said the commission would be asked to find “the best way to meet care and support costs as a partnership between individuals and the state”.

Lansley also said the commission’s recommendations would have to be compatible with the government’s personalisation agenda, take into account how the right “housing and related services” can support disabled people, and examine the links between the social care and benefits systems.

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she was “concerned” about the use of the term “partnership” because it could imply that the government will not consider funding the care and support system through general taxation, a solution which has widespread support among disabled people and their organisations.

She said: “We will be reiterating again that we think social care should be funded from general taxation. If that funding option is ruled out we would be very unhappy.”

But she welcomed the tight timescale, with the commission told to complete its work by the end of July 2011.

She said: “The crisis is now. We have had these debates ad infinitum. It is time to get on with it.”

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy and parliamentary officer, called on the commission to ensure that its recommendations were “fully informed by the views and experiences of disabled people”.

She said the current system “leads to inequity across the country”, causes “stress and insecurity to disabled people”, keeps them in poverty and denies them opportunities to participate in their communities.

The commission will be chaired by the economist Andrew Dilnot, who will be joined by two former directors of social services, Dame Jo Williams, the former chief executive of Mencap and now acting chair of the Care Quality Commission, and the Labour peer and former health minister Lord Warner.

There has been some concern that the government failed to appoint a disabled member of the commission, but a Department of Health spokesman said the government was “confident” it had “the right mix of skills and experience to engage effectively with the needs and preferences of people with disabilities”.

He said the government had suggested that the commission should appoint a panel of representatives of older people, working-age disabled people and carers to be “consulted regularly on the commission’s work”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Open employment with support ‘is the ideal’, says RADAR

Disabled people should be supported to find mainstream employment rather than “special” jobs in separate, sheltered workplaces, according to a new report.

The Supporting Sustainable Careers report by RADAR suggests ten “propositions” that would make it easier for disabled people to gain decent pay, career development opportunities, status and inclusion in society, and freedom from discrimination.

It concludes that in general – although not for every disabled person – open employment with the necessary support meets more of these “key factors” than other options, such as sheltered workplaces.

The report was funded by Remploy, which still employs about 3,000 disabled people in 54 sheltered factories, despite closing 29 factories as part of a controversial modernisation programme.

Tim Matthews, chief executive of Remploy, told Disability News Service at the report’s launch that he doubted whether there would be a long-term role for employment settings where there were “100 per cent disabled people congregating together”.

He said that “there may well be a place for sheltered factories in the future” but they would “increasingly” have to fulfil the criteria outlined in the report, such as providing career progression, offering “real jobs” that were not subsidised and being part of an inclusive workforce.

RADAR’s report also says that the continued existence of separate workplaces just for disabled people makes it harder to tackle bullying, harassment and discrimination in mainstream workplaces.

And it says disabled people should be offered extra support to keep their jobs – particularly in the light of current public spending cuts – because they face greater risks of long-term unemployment.

The highest priority, says the report, is to enable disabled people to achieve “career security” – building up the skills and experience to move from one job to another.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “In past recessions, disabled people have ended up living on benefits for decades.

“As public sector jobs are cut we need to stop that happening again – by using scarce resources efficiently on the type of employment support we know works.

“That means offering all disabled people the chance of a regular job as jobs come back on stream, help to get the skills the economy needs and pay that is at least the minimum wage.  Everyone needs to raise their expectations of what disabled people can do.”

Researchers for the report talked to more than 50 disabled RADAR members, disability organisations, trade unionists and supported employment providers.

Among its other “propositions”, the report says disabled people should have the opportunity to manage and control their own job support, while more social firms should be led and managed by disabled people.

It also says that there is “no place” for sheltered work that contributes to the economy but offers less than the minimum wage, while businesses should only let contracts to social firms or supportive businesses that offer at least the minimum wage to their disabled employees.

And it calls for disabled volunteers to be offered career development support so they can move on to paid employment.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Campaigners face new euthanasia battle

Disabled activists campaigning against the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are facing yet another attempt to force the government to weaken the law.

Lawyers for Tony Nicklinson, a stroke survivor with high support needs, announced this week that they want the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidelines stating when it would be in the public interest to prosecute cases of euthanasia.

They said that Nicklinson, who can only move his head and eyes, has made a “clear and settled” decision that he wants to die when ready to do so, but is unable to carry out that wish himself.

He wants his wife to be able to end his life without facing prosecution for murder.

The case is similar to that of Debbie Purdy, who used the courts to force the DPP to list the factors to be considered by prosecutors when deciding whether to charge someone with assisted suicide.

But Nicklinson wants the DPP to issue guidance for cases of euthanasia, in which someone actively takes a disabled person’s life, rather than assisting them to take their own life.

The DPP, Keir Starmer, has refused to issue new guidance because he believes existing guidelines and advice for prosecutors are “sufficient”.

Nicklinson’s lawyers this week issued legal proceedings in the high court seeking a judicial review of the DPP’s refusal to issue new guidance.

But the Care Not Killing alliance – whose members include RADAR – said the current law “acts as a powerful deterrent” and changing the law was opposed by “the vast majority of disabled people and disability rights organisations in our country” and would “contribute to a mindset that the lives of sick or disabled people are somehow less worth living”.

In a witness statement, Nicklinson said he had “no privacy or dignity left” and added: “I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.”

Saimo Chahal, Nicklinson’s solicitor, said: “The law of murder is inflexible and the Law Commission was right when, in 2006, it recommended that the law should be reviewed, particularly in the context of mercy killing.”

A spokeswoman for the DPP said there were “a number of important distinctions between assisted suicide, euthanasia and so-called mercy killing”.

She said: “Suicide, whether assisted or not, and murder are very different acts in that the former requires a person to take their own life, whereas the latter involves a person doing an act that ends the life of another.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled peer secures victory over government on academy plans

A disabled peer has engineered a victory over the government in a Lords vote that could help guarantee the future of local authority support services for disabled pupils.

Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins was one of several disabled peers who raised serious concerns about the impact of the government’s new academies bill.

They say that because the bill will increase the number of academies – publicly-funded independent schools that are free from council control – it will also increase the drain of resources from local councils’ specialist support budgets.

Baroness Wilkins told fellow peers this week that a large increase in the number of academy schools would mean services for children with “low incidence” special educational needs (SEN) or impairments would become “untenable”.

She said the bill could mean that “large numbers of deaf and blind children and others with multi-sensory impairments” would not get the support they needed.

She moved an amendment that would allow councils to keep all of the funding for support services, rather than giving a share of that money to academies.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson supported the amendment and said she had experienced a lack of funding for support when she was at school, and feared other disabled pupils would not receive the “rounded education that they all deserve” if changes were not made to the bill.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell also backed the amendment, and said she had met with two young disabled pupils who feared the impact the bill would have on the support they received.

A fourth disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, said the problem was “already serious” and “likely to grow”, with local authority budgets shrinking because of existing academies.

He said councils were the only realistic providers of such services, and added: “If the budget is removed from local authorities so that they cannot provide specialist services, there is the problem of knowing where academies will buy them in for their pupils from low incidence groups.”

Lord Hill, the Conservative junior education minister, said the government would work closely with local authorities, examine the funding of low-incidence SEN, and “monitor the impact of increasing numbers of academies on local authority sensory impairment services”.

But Baroness Wilkins said she was not reassured by his comments and asked for a vote on her amendment, which was passed by 193 to 171 votes.

The bill now passes to the Commons, with its second reading due on 19 July.

When asked whether the government would attempt to overturn the amendment in the Commons, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Ministers are now considering their options.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Health white paper: Concerns over new role for GPs

Disability charities have raised key concerns over the government’s sweeping and controversial plans to reform the NHS.

The health white paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, contains plans to give GPs more power, with groups of GP practices to be given responsibility for buying treatment from hospitals and other health providers.

Primary care trusts (PCTs) and strategic health authorities will be phased out, and patients will be able to register with any GP practice they choose.

The white paper also promises to “break down barriers between health and social care funding”, with closer integration between health and social care “at all levels of the system”.

And it reaffirms the government’s commitment to personal health budgets – in which patients are given control of the money to pay for their care.

But RADAR said it had concerns about whether groups of GP practices would be able to maintain the same “strategic focus” as PCTs.

Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy and parliamentary officer, said she was also concerned about whether GPs would be held accountable for the impact of their commissioning decisions on disabled people.

And she said it would be unlikely that GPs would be covered by the specific duties that public bodies would have to meet as part of the Equality Act’s new single equality duty.

Davidson added: “We will try to be involved [with government consultations around the white paper] to make sure that disability equality is at the heart of those proposals.”

The mental health charity Rethink warned that most GPs would not have the necessary expertise to commission mental health services.

A survey of GPs for Rethink found that less than a third felt equipped to take on such a role.

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink, said that people with mental health conditions often say their GPs do not understand mental illness.

He said: “If they are to be given responsibility for deciding what happens to people with severe mental illness, then they also have the right to get properly trained up first.”

The white paper also includes a number of details about the government’s plans for social care, although many had already been announced.

It says the government will set out its “vision for adult social care” later this year, and will work with the Law Commission – which launched an overhaul of social care laws under the Labour government – to “reform and consolidate the law underpinning adult social care”.

The white paper also repeats the pledge to set up a commission on the funding of long-term care and support, with a white paper in 2011 and a new bill in next year’s Queen’s speech.

The Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow later announced £4 million of funding to support personal health budget pilot schemes – the same level of funding as last year.

The money will also help the government plan how to combine personal health budgets with social care personal budgets.

Burstow said: “We want to give people more choice and influence over their healthcare – giving them direct control of the cash is a powerful way of achieving this.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Health white paper: NICE given social care remit

The government is to hand responsibility for developing social care “quality standards” to the body that provides advice on drugs and other medical treatments.

The move to shift some social care responsibilities from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was contained in the health white paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, which was published this week.

The white paper says the government will “expand the role of NICE to develop quality standards for social care”, while a health bill will contain measures to “put NICE on a firmer statutory footing, securing its independence and core functions and extending its remit to social care”.

A Department of Heath spokeswoman said: “We are taking this opportunity to align and develop NICE’s role in improving service quality in both health and social care.

“Having one organisation to set quality standards for health and social care will improve levels of integration between them.

“This enables frontline staff to work better together, and is consistent with the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) role as a joint regulator for both health and social care.”

She said the proposed reforms would provide an opportunity for SCIE to “create a specific role within part of a new quality framework for health and social care”.

A SCIE spokeswoman said it had worked closely with NICE on its quality standards for dementia care and had also “supported” its quality standards on stroke care.

But she said SCIE provided a wide range of other services, and it would continue to have a role in providing “practical, accessible, evidence-based support to frontline care workers”.

She added: “Obviously we will be working with the Department of Health and NICE to see how quality standards will be developed in the future.”

The CQC welcomed the move and said the new quality standards “could only be good” for service-users and would be “more detailed and more specific” than CQC’s own regulations for service-providers on quality and safety.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Ombudsman finds death fine hospital guilty over care

A “damning” ombudsman’s report has found a hospital guilty of widespread failings in the care provided to a woman with learning difficulties and high support needs who died after a routine operation.

The findings of the parliamentary and health ombudsman came just weeks after the same hospital – Basildon University Hospital – was fined £50,000 over the 2006 death of a man with learning difficulties whose head became trapped in his bed rails.

The ombudsman found that the care and treatment provided by the hospital to Lisa Sharpe before her death in 2004 fell “significantly below a reasonable standard”.

Her family claimed their concerns were ignored for nine days after she underwent a routine operation to insert a feeding tube – even though she had begun to vomit bile.

When an x-ray was finally taken, it revealed she had pneumonia. Despite her condition, the hospital failed to provide any pain relief.

Mencap, which has supported Lisa Sharpe’s family, said the ombudsman’s report highlighted a string of failings, including a lack of basic nursing care, the failure to manage her pain, and a breach of the hospital’s public sector duties under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Mencap said it knew of two other people with learning difficulties and similarly high support needs who had died at the hospital.

Beverley Dawkins, Mencap’s national officer for profound and multiple learning disability, said: “The ombudsman’s report is damning – that doctors and nurses failed to provide Lisa with even basic medical and nursing care is unacceptable, and a sign of a wider indifference towards people with a learning disability within the NHS.”

She said Mencap was pleased that the hospital had signed up to its new Getting it Right charter, which explains the adjustments healthcare professionals should make when treating someone with a learning difficulty.

But Dawkins said the hospital’s progress could “only be measured by what happens when the next person with a severe learning disability is cared for on one of its wards”.

Maggie Rogers, director of nursing for the trust that runs the hospital, said: “We would like to emphasis our apologies and condolences to Lisa’s family and we are very sorry that we were not able to resolve the family’s concerns after Lisa’s sad death in 2004.

“The ombudsman’s medical expert acknowledged that much of the care was good. We accept the ombudsman’s recommendations; much of the learning and many improvements have been implemented and will continue to be strengthened.”

Last month, a Mencap survey found almost half of doctors had seen a patient with learning difficulties being treated with neglect or lack of dignity or receive poor care.

Meanwhile, Mencap has been granted a judicial review of the way the parliamentary and health ombudsman investigated the deaths of six people with learning difficulties in NHS care, whose cases were detailed in Mencap’s Death by Indifference report three years ago.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com