NHS accused of putting ‘do not resuscitate’ notices on patients with learning disabilities without consulting with their families

A leading charity has accused NHS staff of thinking patients with learning abilities are not worth treating, often giving them 'do not resuscitate' notices without telling their families.

A Mencap report said the deaths in NHS care of 74 people with learning disabilities could have been avoided – and were a direct result of institutional discrimination.

Mencap said the staggering number of deaths had occurred in the past decade, and it called on the Government to 'make the NHS safe for people with a learning disability'.

Its report – titled Death /02/15/article-2101445-043C9E8D0000044D-976_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”'Not worth treating': A report by charity Mencap said there was evidence of 'institutional discrimination' against patients with learning disabilities” class=”blkBorder” />

'Not worth treating': A report by charity Mencap said there was evidence of 'institutional discrimination' against patients with learning disabilities

The charity said that, although some positive steps had been taken in the NHS, many health professionals were still failing to provide adequate care to those with learning disabilities.

In particular, it pointed to the inappropriate use of 'do not resuscitate' (DNR) orders on such patients.

The report said: 'The inappropriate use of DNR orders has remained a constant feature of many Mencap cases. There have been circumstances where DNR notices have been applied without the knowledge or agreement of families, and applied hastily in inappropriate situations, solely on the basis of the person’s learning disability.'

Report authors said they uncovered common errors made by healthcare professionals, including failure to abide by disability discrimination law, ignoring crucial advice from families, failing to meet even basic care needs, not recognising pain and distress, and delays in diagnosing and treating serious illness.

Do not resuscitate: Mencap says there are 74 cases in ten years where deaths of patients with learning disabilities could have been prevented

Do not resuscitate: Mencap says there are 74 cases in ten years where deaths of patients with learning disabilities could have been prevented

Mencap said it believed this was
underpinned by an assumption by some healthcare professionals that
people with a learning disability were not worth treating.

Mark Goldring, Mencap chief executive, said: 'The report confirms that, five years on from our landmark Death /02/15/article-2101445-11BFA7BC000005DC-632_458x286.jpg” width=”458″ height=”286″ alt=”Lister Hospital: The family of Alan MacDonald claim they had to 'beg' staff at Lister Hospital to treat him ” class=”blkBorder” />

Lister Hospital: The family of Alan MacDonald claim they had to 'beg' staff at Lister Hospital to treat him

Included in the report are case studies typical of what Mencap believes to be institutionalised discrrimination in the NHS:

'Alan MacDonald died suddenly in Lister Hospital, Stevenage, on 20 December 2009, aged 53.

'He had lived independently with his wife, supported by carers.

'Alan had Down’s syndrome and a moderate learning disability, and was considered by his family to have a “full and active life”.

'Three days before admission to hospital, Alan was noted by his family to be “in fine form”. However, on December 15, 2009, he was admitted to hospital with abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

'From the time Alan was admitted, his family felt they had to “beg” staff to treat him, only to be met with “hostility”.

'A member of Alan’s family who is a doctor… said: “I felt the nurses on the ward did not respect a gravely ill patient with special needs and a grieving family. Instead of using respect, tact, care and understanding, I and the rest of Alan’s family were faced with hostility, disrespect and no consideration for the distressing situation”.

'The cause of death was multiple organ failure, sepsis and bronchopneumonia.

'After a protracted complaint against it by Alan’s family, the hospital has finally apologised for the attitude of some of its nursing staff. But, for the family, the lack of respect shown for their loved one is something that will never be forgotten.'