Court bid seeks independent probes into detention deaths

A mental health trust was guilty of discrimination by failing to ensure there was an independent investigation into the death of a leading disabled campaigner, the high court heard this week.

Janey Antoniou killed herself in October 2010 while in the care of Central and Northwest London NHS Trust, and a subsequent inquest was highly critical of the trust’s risk management.

A judicial review taken against the trust, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England by her husband, Michael, and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), began today (Thursday) and was expected to finish tomorrow.

Wendy Hewitt, EHRC’s deputy director of legal, said: “Anyone detained against their will in an institution is in a very vulnerable situation. If they die, it is essential that there is an independent investigation.

“The risks of an institution investigating its own actions, as in this case, are obvious and it also means that lessons that could reduce the chances of other people dying may be overlooked.

“Deaths in prisons or in police cells are automatically subject to an investigation by an independent body. Deaths of persons detained in psychiatric hospitals, who may be even more vulnerable, are not.

“We are backing this review to ensure that a proper investigation happens in all such cases.”

The commission believes that the failure to refer such deaths automatically to an independent body for investigation is discriminatory under the Equality Act, and violates the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also believes that the state should have “proper systems” to prevent self-harm and suicide by all detained patients, guidance to make sure those systems are followed, and “an effective independent judicial system so the cause of death can be established”.

A spokeswoman for Central and Northwest London NHS Trust said it was “not appropriate” to comment until the judicial review had finished.

Antoniou fought to improve the care of people with mental heath conditions and to battle the stigma they faced. Rethink, the mental health charity she worked with, said she spoke to tens of thousands of people about the realities of living with mental illness.

She was also the service-user representative on the panel that developed the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s schizophrenia guidelines.

Last month, Rethink launched an award in her name – funded by her family – to recognise those who are continuing her work educating people about mental illness and bringing about change in the mental health sector.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show that seven of the 15 people who died in police custody in 2012-13 had mental health conditions. Four of those who died had been restrained by police officers.

Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, said it was “of continuing concern” that almost half of those who died in police custody had mental health conditions, as did nearly two-thirds of those who killed themselves within two days of release from custody.

She said it was “clearly important” that the police received better training in dealing with people with mental ill-health.

And she said the figures “also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness – before, instead of and after contact with the criminal justice system”.

News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Manifesto could provide ‘rallying point’ for disability movement

Four leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are hoping a new manifesto will provide a “rallying point” for the disability movement in the lead-up to the next general election.

A draft version of the Reclaiming Our Futures manifesto has been produced by Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People).

They hope as many disabled people and DPOs as possible will put their names to the manifesto, and use it to lobby politicians and campaign in the run-up to 2015.

And they hope the final version of the manifesto will allow the movement to develop a united voice, and fight back against the “systematic and unprecedented level of attack” disabled people have faced under the coalition’s austerity measures.

But they also see their manifesto as an action plan for the government to “live up to its responsibilities” to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The draft manifesto stakes out policies in six key areas: inclusive education; independent living; access, inclusion and participation; work; welfare support and housing; and achieving “real” co-production.

Among the policies, it calls for all disabled learners to have the right to attend courses in mainstream education; independent living legislation that fully implements the UNCRPD; and true portability of support.

It also calls for the Independent Living Fund to be saved from closure, and for the government to set up an independent living taskforce, as well as a co-produced review of care and support to flesh out the need for a new national care service.

The manifesto says social care should be free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, and with that funding ring-fenced, like the NHS.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the manifesto recognised the need for a “fundamental shift” in social care, which “should have the same priority as the health service”.

She said: “By no means do we have all the answers but we think there is enough to point us in the direction that we should be going.

“The detailed mechanisms? That’s why we are calling for a review. But we know that social care cannot carry on being the poor relative of health.”

Other policies include a fully-accessible public transport system; a disability employment task force to review the provision of employment support; and user-led disability equality training for employers.

The manifesto also says there should be adequate and long-term core funding of DPOs to ensure “meaningful, resourced and accessible co-production with disabled people and their organisations at a local, regional and national level on all issues affecting us”.

The four DPOs are also suggesting that both the hated “fitness for work” test – the work capability assessment (WCA) – and the coalition’s new personal independence payment (PIP), should be scrapped.

They want to see PIP replaced with a new disability living benefit, co-produced with disabled people, and fitness for work determined instead by GPs and other health workers.

The draft version of the manifesto has now been put out for a short, three-week consultation that ends on 12 August.

The hope is that disabled people and DPOs will see the “achievable, realistic” manifesto as an attempt to reclaim their rights.

The final version will be launched on 29 August, to coincide with the start of DPAC’s UK-wide Reclaiming Our Futures week of action.

Both the manifesto and the week of action came out of last September’s national conference, Rethinking Disability Equality Policy and Practice in a Hostile Climate, which was organised by the four DPOs.

Lazard said it would be a “tough challenge” to unite the disability movement around a single manifesto.

But she said: “We hope it is going to be a tool for the movement and DPOs and individuals to use with campaigning and lobbying in the lead-up to the next general election.

“It is an attempt to reclaim our rights and to start to look at the kind of life and society that we think is needed and wanted.”

She added: “It is exciting and we hope it will be a kind of rallying point for the movement to gather around and to use, and we are very excited that it is being linked in with DPAC’s Reclaiming Our Futures week.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

British Paralympic Association admits it has just one disabled director

Shocked activists have criticised the British Paralympic Association (BPA) after its “astonishing” and “appalling” admission that only one of its nine directors is disabled.

The organisation – which prepares and manages the British team at every Paralympic Games, and is responsible for promoting the Paralympic movement in Britain – made the admission after announcing the appointment of three new non-executive directors to its board.

None of the three new directors – civil servant Emma Boggis, who manages the Cabinet Office’s Olympic and Paralympic legacy unit; Norman Brodie, who headed Cadbury’s London 2012 marketing operation; and Greg Nugent, who was director of brand, marketing and culture at the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG – are disabled people.

Jaspal Dhani, a disability consultant and former chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said the lack of disabled directors on the BPA board was “appalling” and “astonishing”.

He said: “They may talk of legacy [from London 2012] but how is that legacy reflected in their own internal structure?

“When you look at how far we have come in ensuring that disabled people’s voices are heard in all areas of life it shows how backward-looking BPA’s philosophy is.

“They are an organisation for disabled people and not of disabled people, which is highly disappointing when it is disabled people who have made BPA what it is.

“What they are saying here is that they do not consider disabled people to have the right kind of skills, professionalism and background that can help them to develop as an organisation.”

Dhani, who plays and coaches with the London Raiders wheelchair basketball club in east London, added: “It is very sad and disappointing that BPA have not given due regard to looking at the talents and skills of disabled people and particularly disabled athletes as suitable candidates for joining their board.

“When you look at the success of the Paralympics and Olympics, it was disabled athletes who made the games what they were.”

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said BPA was guilty of a “missed opportunity to lead by example”.

She said: “It is very disappointing when there has been so much dialogue and discussion around the legacy [from London 2012].

“It is very undermining of the level of expertise that the elite athletes have built up. For disabled sportspeople the career progression [within disability sports administration] is very, very limited. The opportunities are minimal.”

Newman, a keen sailor, said UKDPC had tried to promote change in disability sport by talking to governing bodies, but added: “It is very difficult when you have a governing body that doesn’t allow the benefit of lived experience to influence decisions.”

BPA said the new appointments followed a “thorough recruitment process”, and that the trio would provide “leadership”, “strategic direction” and “governance oversight”, focusing on “vision, core values and objectives”.

Asked whether it was acceptable to have just one disabled director, a BPA spokeswoman said: “The BPA is a sports organisation, and the appointment of our board members is made based on their knowledge, experience and passion for Paralympic sport.”

When asked if this suggested that BPA believed there were no retired Paralympians with the requisite “knowledge, experience and passion for Paralympic sport”, she declined to comment further.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.

The Cabinet Office’s Olympic and Paralympic legacy unit also declined to comment, saying: “It is not for the government to tell anyone about the composition of its board.”

Tim Reddish, BPA’s chair and its only disabled director, said earlier that he was confident the appointments would help the organisation “make further progress on our ambition to make the UK the leading nation in Paralympic sport and, through this, to inspire a better world for disabled people”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

‘Let councils take the strain on employment’

Local authorities in London have questioned why the government’s Work Programme is finding jobs for so few disabled people, when council-run schemes are much more successful.

London Councils pointed to an analysis of government figures, which showed that fewer than five per cent of disabled people who claim employment and support allowance (ESA) are finding a job after being referred to the Work Programme in London.

The figures, from April 2012 to March 2013, show only 370 ESA claimants across London found at least three months’ paid work through the Work Programme in the entire year.

But some council-run employment schemes have reported far higher success rates than the Work Programme, which launched in June 2011.

Conservative-run Wandsworth council, in south London, has found sustained employment for 37.5 per cent of the disabled people who enter its employment scheme Workright.

The new report calls for “devolution” of the Work Programme, and other employment support programmes, so there is a single pot of money managed by groups of boroughs, which can then link that support with other services provided by councils, such as childcare, support services for drug or alcohol problems, and information and advice services.

Cllr Peter John, London Councils’ executive member for Employment and Skills, said: “The Work Programme is failing those most in need.

“For welfare-to-work schemes to support the most vulnerable successfully, there needs to be exceptionally strong links between the scheme, the people and the services on which they depend.

“By devolving the scheme to councils the government would radically improve employment support and offer real hope to those who need it most, reversing years of low-expectations of what can be achieved.”

Last September, almost half of London’s local authorities said they had “no influence” over the Work Programme in their local area.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DWP makes progress on opening up Access to Work

The government has opened up its Access to Work (AtW) scheme to new groups of young disabled people, just days before it is due to release statistics on how many people used the programme last year.

The changes were recommended by an expert panel chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of the user-led organisation ecdp, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepting nine of his 11 recommendations.

He said: “We were very clear we wanted a system that was much more personalised around the needs of disabled people, and I think we have got a commitment from Esther [McVey, the minister for disabled people] to do that.”

He was particularly pleased that McVey agreed with his recommendation that there should be more flexibility with AtW payments.

Claimants will now be able to apply for up-front payments to allow them to take up or remain in a job, and it will also be possible for them to vary the amount of support they use on a weekly basis – for instance if their working hours vary every week – without having to check every time with their AtW adviser.

But Adams said he was disappointed that the government had not yet accepted his recommendation that claimants should be able to manage their AtW payments online, which he said would have a “huge positive impact on disabled people”.

And he said more needed to be done to help people with fluctuating conditions.

He also said he would have liked the government to do more to reduce the share of AtW payments met by employers.

The government also agreed that disabled people on traineeships, supported internships and work academies will now all be eligible for support through AtW, with the DWP putting aside £2 million a year for such schemes.

Disabled people on work trials arranged through Jobcentre Plus can already apply for AtW, but eligibility is now being extended to disabled people who arrange their own work trial with an employer, if there is a “realistic prospect” of a job at the end of it.

Work trials allow a jobseeker to continue receiving benefits while working for a potential employer for up to 30 days, to test whether a potential job is suitable.

Traineeships will be introduced from August and will offer young people a work placement and work skills training, as well as support to improve their English and maths.

Supported internships – which were launched this week following a trial in 15 further education colleges – offer a structured study programme, based with an employer, which includes on-the-job training, support from job coaches, and the chance to study for relevant qualifications if appropriate.

And work academies provide pre-employment training, a work experience placement and a guaranteed job interview.

The most recent AtW figures, released in April, showed that the number of people using the scheme – which provides funding towards the extra costs disabled people face in work, such as travel costs, adapted equipment or support workers – had started to rise again, after a sustained period when numbers had been falling.

Liz Sayce welcomed the government’s decision to make AtW available for all traineeships and work experience, a recommendation of her review of supported employment, and which she said could “overcome terrible discrimination, especially for young disabled people who couldn’t get a job without experience and couldn’t get any experience for lack of funds for adjustments – a catch 22”.

She said the changes were the results of campaigning by disabled people.

But she added: “We have a crisis of young disabled people’s unemployment. Next, government needs to remove barriers to apprenticeships like unnecessary qualifications; and stop the scrounger rhetoric that gives a disastrous message to employers and damages disabled people’s employment opportunities.”

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work.

“We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.”

McVey admitted last October that AtW spending had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.

To find out more about Access to Work, visit: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

End of the road for Equality 2025

The government has decided to scrap its high-level advice body of disabled people, Equality 2025, following an independent review.

It is the second disabled-led advice body to be told this week that it faces abolition, following the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to over-rule an independent reviewer and recommend that its statutory disability committee should be disbanded.

Announcing the decision to abolish Equality 2025 in only two months’ time, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) launched a three-month consultation to find a new way of providing that advice.

Although its nine members will end their terms in September, the chair, Rachel Perkins, will continue to advise the government on policy, strategy and arrangements for replacing Equality 2025, until her contract ends in March 2014.

ODI has made it clear that the replacement for Equality 2025 will not consist solely of disabled people, and will include input from people with “particular expertise on disability issues”.

This would mirror its earlier decision to sideline the Network of Networks, a collection of 12 disabled people’s organisations, and replace it with the Disability Action Alliance, which includes user-led and non-user-led members.

ODI said it wanted to replace Equality 2025 with a list of “expert advisors” to inform policy development across government, as well as a “forum” of 30-40 members, which will provide “engagement on priorities and strategic direction”.

The forum’s work will include “horizon scanning for important future issues which are likely to affect disabled people”, progress on the government’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy, and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite this huge increase in the number of people involved in giving advice, ODI said the annual budget would remain at about £80,000.

This suggests that none of those on the forum or the list of advisors will be paid anything more than expenses.

In its consultation document, ODI said it wanted to hear from a broader range of disabled people, including hard-to-reach groups; to “expand co-production and partnership working in all areas of strategy and policy”; and for Equality 2025’s replacement to be more open, transparent and flexible.

In the last year, Equality 2025 has given confidential advice to government departments across 47 policy areas.

But in his review of Equality 2025, Rich Watts recommended that it should be scrapped and replaced.

He said Equality 2025 was not able to provide strategic expert advice in all subject areas, while there was “a need to incorporate more lived experience expertise in policy development which is currently not being delivered”.

Watts, programme lead for mental health at the National Development Team for inclusion, said that engagement with government departments had been “patchy” and that any engagement there had been had often come as because of Perkins’ impressive reputation.

But he said there were “clear instances” in which Equality 2025 had provided “valuable confidential insight and advice”, although the “general view was that there isn’t sufficient strategic expertise across Equality 2025 to fulfil this role in all policy areas”.

He concluded: “Equality 2025 has an important function, but could have been more effective in delivering its functions.

“The role of chair of Equality 2025 has been effective and valued by all who had direct engagement with her, but engagement with the group as a whole has been patchy.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Bosses refuse to order review of Solar Centre abuse

The public bodies responsible for a series of serious failures and a six-year delay in securing justice for disabled people abused at a Doncaster day centre, have refused to order an independent review into the scandal.

The successful prosecution of two former Solar Centre nursing assistants for ill-treatment only came about after Disability News Service (DNS) brought the scandal to the attention of the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, following two failed investigations by South Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Following the trial, which ended in May, families of those abused at the Solar Centre had assumed that Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (DSAPB) – which includes representatives from Doncaster council, South Yorkshire police, local health trusts and other agencies – would order a serious case review (SCR).

They hoped this review would be as wide-ranging and hard-hitting as the SCR into the Winterbourne View private hospital – which again involved appalling ill-treatment of people with learning difficulties in a health setting – which was published last August.

Among the questions they and DNS wanted answered were how at least one of the former nursing assistants was able to continue working in the care sector after she was suspended over the abuse allegations, and why it took six years and two failed police prosecutions to secure convictions.

They also wanted to know why an internal report compiled by RDaSH (Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the day centre) into the alleged abuse appeared to have been watered-down before being handed to the families of the service-users in 2008.

And they have asked why earlier warnings by members of staff to RDaSH appear to have been ignored.

Roger Thompson, chair of DSAPB’s board, told DNS this week that a serious case review was “not needed”. He has so far refused to comment further or explain that decision.

His statement came in the week that the government announced that Doncaster council would become the first local authority to have control of its children’s services taken away and handed to an independent trust.

Adrian Milnes, whose step-son Richie was abused at the Solar Centre and who attended much of the trial, said: “It doesn’t surprise me, it saddens me. We have had this for six years and there is still an extreme reluctance to be transparent and accountable.”

He said it was even more necessary for there to be an SCR for the Solar Centre than at Winterbourne View, because of the length of time it took to secure convictions.

He said: “Nothing really has changed. They say they have learned lessons but what has happened has proved they have not.

“They are still conducting a policy of ‘we will not tell them anything unless we absolutely must,’ rather than a policy of, ‘we will tell people everything to establish confidence and trust.’”

And he suggested the failure to hold an SCR meant that public bodies in Doncaster had something to hide.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”

But she added: “Serious case reviews are commissioned locally by safeguarding boards to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt about the way in which staff and agencies work together to safeguard vulnerable people.”

Susan Murphy, aged 44, and James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty in May of a total of 25 charges of ill-treating people with learning difficulties, physical impairments and high support needs at the Solar Centre.

The service-users had suffered more than two years of abuse from Hinds and Murphy, who intimidated other staff into silence.

The men and women were slapped and hit, while Hinds dragged one man across the floor and stabbed another of the male service-users repeatedly with a needle on the arm and hand because he wouldn’t sit down, while Murphy locked a female service-user in a cupboard.

The jury had also heard that one of the service-users had scars caused by suffering severe burns as a child, and how Hinds and Murphy would hit her, and then Hinds “would laugh and say the marks could not be seen because of the scarring to her face”.

The abuse was finally halted in March 2007 when a member of staff reported her concerns to RDaSH.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat MP and former care services minister, who raised concerns about the case with civil servants in 2011 after it was brought to his attention by DNS, backed calls for an SCR last month.

But the Labour MP Rosie Winterton, whose Doncaster Central constituency includes the Solar Centre, again refused to comment on the case this week.

DNS has now asked Winterton on at least four occasions over the last 30 months to speak out and put her weight behind efforts to secure justice for the survivors of the abuse, and to find answers to the many questions raised about the conduct of the public bodies involved in the scandal.

She has yet to explain why she will not comment on the case.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com