DWP’s ‘fitness for work’ reviewer handed CBE after refusing to speak out on benefit deaths evidence

An occupational health expert has been recognised with a high-ranking honour just weeks after refusing to say if he was shown vital documents linking the government’s “fitness for work” test with the deaths of benefit claimants.

Dr Paul Litchfield was asked in early April if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had shown him the documents when he was reviewing the work capability assessment (WCA) in 2013 and 2014.

But Litchfield, who has just retired as BT’s chief medical officer, refused to say if he was shown letters written by two coroners and a number of secret DWP internal reviews into deaths linked to the WCA regime.

Just two months later, he was recognised with a CBE in the “Prime Minister’s list” of this month’s birthday honours, receiving the award for “services to wellbeing in the workplace”.

He published the final two independent reviews of the WCA in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reviews mentioned the key documents that linked the WCA and the deaths of claimants.

Even though DWP possessed all the documents, it claims it holds no information in its records on whether they were shown to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

Since Disability News Service (DNS) revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have continued to mount that DWP and its ministers took deliberate steps to cover up evidence of the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

The coroners’ letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013 and each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

The call for evidence for Litchfield’s second review was issued on 10 June 2014, five months after coroner Mary Hassell had written to DWP following an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, who had had significant, long-term mental health problems.

Hassell had told DWP that the trigger for O’Sullivan’s suicide had been the conclusion by civil servants that he was fit for work, but she said that neither DWP nor the Atos doctor who had assessed him through the WCA process had asked his GP, psychologist or psychiatrist for information about his mental health.

Hassell told DWP that it needed to take action “to prevent further deaths” like Michael O’Sullivan’s.

But despite that urgent call, Litchfield’s second review failed to mention Hassell’s letter or a similar letter sent to DWP by another coroner in 2010 following the suicide of Stephen Carré.

Litchfield’s two reviews also failed to mention the peer reviews.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”.

One of the aims of the reviews is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has already told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not yet been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

Bob Ellard, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “For disabled people who are subject to the cruel assessment system that the Litchfield reviews were supposed to improve, awarding him a CBE for his work will seem utterly inappropriate.

“Disabled people and those with loved ones who have died as a result of this harmful assessment system will find it hard not to believe that the CBE is an establishment payoff for toning down his review reports.

“This is especially compounded following his refusal to state if he knew about the coroners’ letters and the DWP peer reviews before doing his review of the work capability assessment.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, also questioned the decision to reward Litchfield with a CBE.

He said: “Litchfield’s silence, in our opinion, raises serious questions about his commitment to revealing the truth about the deaths of sick and/or disabled people put through the ‘fit to work’ regime.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if the decision to award the CBE was connected with Litchfield’s refusal to comment on whether he was shown the peer reviews and coroners’ letters, and she referred DNS to the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office refused to comment.

A BT spokesman said Litchfield would not be commenting.

28 June 2018

 

 

Campaigner defeats third government department on accessible information

A disabled campaigner has won his third legal case against separate government departments over their failure to provide information in accessible formats.

Graham Kirwan had already secured victories over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health.

DWP previously paid him £1,700 damages for refusing to communicate by email over his personal independence payment claim, and in 2015 he was responsible for persuading NHS England to publish its first accessible information standard, thanks to another legal action.

Now he has secured a confidential sum of damages from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) over its failure to provide accessible versions of the forms he needs to take legal action for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

Kirwan, who is partially-sighted, has computer software that can magnify text, but it does not usually work with scanned or PDF documents.

He had tried in 2015 to access forms from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) “form finder” web pages but they were only available in PDF format.

He asked HMCTS to make all its forms available in both PDF and Word formats on its website but was told instead to contact his local court every time he required a form.

But this “reasonable adjustment” meant it sometimes took six weeks for a form to arrive, while on most occasions he never received it.

Kirwan eventually launched a legal case against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which continued to insist that asking Kirwan to request forms from his local court was a reasonable adjustment.

He pointed out that the court system was seriously under-resourced and that he was often facing delays of up to six weeks to secure forms that non-disabled people could download in minutes.

He also pointed out that disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act must be lodged within one day short of six months, so the lengthy delay could be crucial in deciding whether he secured access to justice.

Kirwan continued to push for a centralised system that provided disabled people with “a single point of contact and a prompt turnaround for requested forms”.

MoJ finally conceded defeat and agreed to set up “a robust system whereby a court user can directly request and receive accessible forms promptly”, and to pay Kirwan damages and court costs.

HMCTS has set up a centralised email address for requests for court forms and guidance in alternative formats (hmctsforms@justice.gov.uk) and says all such forms will be sent out within a maximum of 10 days.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman confirmed the legal settlement.

Kirwan says forms he requests in accessible formats are now arriving within 48 hours, thanks to the new system.

He said: “I understand that the solution may not be ideal, especially as I originally wanted all forms on the site to be available in multiple formats.

“It is now up to larger organisations with much more resources then me to push for bigger change.

“I believe that in the circumstances the new system is much more efficient then that proposed by the MoJ and is a step in the right direction.”

But he added: “There are still massive hurdles to overcome for disabled users of the civil justice system.

“The judiciary is not bound by the Equality Act and it is extremely difficult to get respondents and defendants and specifically the legal profession to correspond in an accessible format.”

28 June 2018

 

 

‘Failing’ DWP announces ‘sixth review’ of benefit records after latest foul-ups

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) looks set to have to carry out six separate trawls through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits because of serious errors by senior civil servants.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, told MPs this week that she was “pleased” that her department was beginning three new reviews of personal independence payment (PIP) claimants.

Together with previous announcements on PIP, universal credit and employment and support allowance (ESA), this means her department will now apparently have to carry out a total of six major trawls through its benefit records to find claimants who have not been receiving the correct level of disability benefits.

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, said Newton’s statement was “the latest example of the Tory government failing disabled people”.

One of this week’s reviews is necessary because of a tribunal ruling delivered in March 2017 – concerning a PIP claimant referred to as RJ – on how DWP assesses if disabled people can carry out activities safely and need supervision to do so.

This review is likely to affect people with conditions such as epilepsy, with an estimated 10,000 PIP claimants set to benefit by £70 to £90 per week by 2022-23.

Another of the reviews will check an estimated 1.6 million PIP claims to find claimants who experience mental distress when making or planning a journey.

This review was necessary because of a court ruling in December 2017 – in the case of a claimant referred to as MH – which found that new rules introduced last year by DWP were unlawful, “blatantly discriminatory” and breached the UN disability convention.

This week’s third review concerns the way DWP has been assessing an estimated 420 PIP claimants with haemophilia who have the associated condition haemarthropathy (a severe type of arthritis caused by bleeding into the joints).

But in addition to this week’s three reviews, DWP is also likely to need to trawl through the files of thousands of other PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor their health conditions.

This fourth review followed two tribunal findings – in the cases of AN and JM – that DWP should have been scoring such claimants in the same way as people needing support to manage treatment therapies such as dialysis.

A fifth review is likely to follow a high court ruling earlier this month that DWP had unlawfully discriminated against two disabled men who each lost disability premiums worth £178 per month when they moved to a new local authority area and were forced to transfer onto the new universal credit.

The sixth review has already been launched following the botched migration of an estimated 70,000 former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

DWP failed to realise that many of these claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.

De Cordova said: “This long overdue statement is the latest example of the Tory government failing disabled people: it has now been forced to carry out six reviews to identify disabled people who were wrongly denied the social security support they were entitled to.

“In four of those cases the government only backed down because of legal challenges, but disabled people should not have to fight through the courts to get the support they need.

“The next Labour government will transform our social security system by abolishing the discredited ESA and PIP assessments, taking back contracts from private companies, and ensuring that disabled people get the support they need to live independently and with dignity.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to answer a series of questions about her department’s string of serious errors on disability benefits.

She refused to confirm that DWP was now set to carry out six separate trawls through its records and refused to say if the department was embarrassed by so many significant errors.

She also refused to say if any senior civil servants or ministers would be taking responsibility or apologising for their errors and incompetence.

But she did say that implementing the MH judgment was likely to cost about £2 billion by 2022-23, and that implementing the RJ judgment would probably cost about £240 million.

And she said: “We’re totally committed to ensuring that disabled people and those with health conditions get the support that they need.

“Supporting people with mental health conditions remains a top priority, and more people with mental health conditions get the higher rate of both components of PIP than under disability living allowance.

“We will be working at pace to ensure everyone who is eligible receives the support they’re entitled to as soon as possible, and we remain on track to begin making payments this summer.”

28 June 2018

 

 

Minister lauds £600,000 for rail access… after her department confirms £47 million in cuts

A transport minister has announced £600,000 funding for seven digital projects to help disabled passengers access rail travel, days after her department confirmed another minister had rubber-stamped tens of millions of pounds in cuts to a separate rail access scheme.

Nusrat Ghani, the transport accessibility minister, said this week that the seven “innovative, high-tech schemes” to improve access to rail travel for disabled passengers would share the £600,000 funding.

The successful schemes include a mobile phone app to help station staff prioritise requests for support from disabled passengers; a website to help disabled passengers navigate transport interchanges; a study of how well frontline rail staff understand invisible impairments; and an app that aims to make rail travel easier for users of British Sign Language.

The seven schemes succeeded in a competition run by the Rail Safety and Standards Board.

Ghani said: “I am determined to make sure that our railways are accessible to everyone, and that we remove any barriers faced by people with a disability.”

But her announcement came only days after her own department finally confirmed to Disability News Service that it had rubber-stamped cuts of tens of millions of pounds to its Access for All rail station access improvement programme.

Two years ago, the chair of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, published a report on “replanning” his organisation’s investment programme for 2014-19 across England and Wales.

He recommended that funding for the Access for All station improvement programme should be cut by nearly £50 million, from £102 million to £55 million (in addition to another £32 million carried over from uncompleted work in 2009-14).

The rest of the funding was to be carried over to 2019-24, but with no guarantee that it would not be used to disguise lower spending on access improvements in future years.

The government had been due to respond to a consultation on Hendy’s report, and last week the Department for Transport (DfT) finally confirmed that it had accepted his recommendations, including the huge cuts to the Access for All programme.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “On the consultation response, it looks like there wasn’t a response published.”

But she pointed to a brief note that has been added to the DfT web page, which says only that “responses to this consultation were considered in the decision to accept Sir Peter Hendy’s plans for re-profiling the rail enhancements portfolio”.

An internet archive website appears to show that this note was only added after 26 May 2018, two years after Hendy’s report was published.

A Network Rail spokesman said that not all its spending on accessibility comes from the Access for All fund.

He said the recent refurbishment of London Bridge station, which included significant access improvements, was funded from the Thameslink programme and not Access for All.

And he said that Network Rail had bid for its Access for All allocation to be higher than £102 million for the next five years. The settlement is due to be announced by DfT later this year.

He said: “Network Rail is committed to working with the Department for Transport and other key stakeholders to create a transport system that works for everyone.

“Improving accessibility in stations – many of which were built in the Victorian era – has been a key objective over recent years.

“But we know more can be done.”

A DfT spokeswoman refused to say how the £600,000 funding would replace the tens of millions of pounds cut from Access for All spending between 2014 and 2019, and how the minister reconciled her determination to “make sure that our railways are accessible to everyone” with those cuts.

But she said in a statement: “These innovative new projects will make a real difference to passengers with disabilities, and help more people travel independently and with confidence.”

She added: “Our Accessibility Action Plan consultation, which sought views on ways to improve travel for disabled people, received over 1,000 responses which we are carefully considering.

“We expect to publish our response – as well as our Inclusive Transport Strategy – later this year.”

 28 June 2018

 

 

Watchdog’s barrister calls for legal right to independent living

Legal advice commissioned by the equality and human rights watchdog has called for disabled people to have a legal right to independent living.

The barrister was asked by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last year to examine if there needed to be a right to independent living in law for disabled people, because of concerns that their right to choice and control over their lives was being “eroded”.

The lawyer has now concluded that there does need to be a legal right to independent living, although there are several options for how that could be achieved.

Now EHRC is consulting on which of those options it should recommend, and it is likely to publish its conclusions by the end of the year.

An EHRC spokesman told Disability News Service that the barrister’s advice contains “quite a few options” on “how such a right could work in practice”.

He said: “We are going to speak to a range of people involved and see if we can narrow down those options and will then come forward with a set of proposals.”

Although he said EHRC could not yet say that it agreed that there needed to be a legal right to independent living, he said its proposals would “take into account” the barrister’s advice.

Last autumn, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) called on the UK government to recognise disabled people’s legal right to independent living, one of the key demands disabled people and their organisations in the UK had made in their submissions to the committee .

Stig Langvad, the CRPD member who led the examination of how the UK had implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), said then that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living.

Meanwhile, two Commons committees have called this week for a new, dedicated national insurance fund to solve the adult social care funding crisis.

The joint report by the housing, communities and local government committee and the health and social care committee calls for a new “social care premium” which would be paid only by those over the age of 40, including those over 65.

It also calls for an increase in inheritance tax.

The report was influenced by the findings of a citizens’ assembly, a representative sample of nearly 50 members of the public – including disabled people who use services – who were asked by the committees to consider how best to fund social care.

Two-thirds of the assembly voted for an entirely publicly-funded system that would be free at the point of use, like the NHS.

But despite written evidence from Inclusion London, which called for a legal right to independent living underpinned by UNCRPD’s article 19, the report appears to have ignored such rights or any mention of the social model of disability.

The committees said the social care system was under “very great and unsustainable strain” and there was an urgent need to plug the gap in funding for adult social care that could reach £2.5 billion a year by 2019-20.

The inquiry report says that the personal element of social care should eventually be provided free, although accommodation costs should continue to be paid on a means-tested basis.

As the two committees say that this policy is “unlikely to be affordable immediately”, they recommend that free personal care should be extended first to people with the highest – “critical” – level of assessed need.

Sarah Wollaston, the Tory chair of the health and social care committee, said: “We can no longer delay finding a fair and sustainable settlement for social care.

“Too many people are being left without the care and support they need and it is time for decisions to be made about how the costs are shared.”

28 June 2018

 

 

Research shows impact of ILF closure on London councils

One in three London councils have cut the care packages of more than a third of disabled people who were previously receiving support from the Independent Living Fund (ILF), following its closure, according to new research.

The user-led research shows a “postcode lottery” in how different local authorities across the capital have responded to the government’s decision to close ILF in June 2015.

And it shows that more than 250 disabled Londoners with high support needs have lost some of their support since ILF’s closure.

The figures show that, of 24 local councils in the capital that produced full answers to freedom of information requests (FoIs) from the pan-London disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, eight of them said that a third or more of former ILF-recipients in their borough had had their support packages cut since the closure.

Three local authorities appear to stand out for the severity of their cuts.

Waltham Forest cut the packages of 31 of 86 former ILF recipients by at least half.

Greenwich cut 11 support packages (out of 43 former recipients) by at least half.

And in Havering, eight of 33 former ILF-recipients have seen their support reduced by at least half.

The Inclusion London figures also show that at least seven former ILF-users have been forced to move into residential care since the closure in June 2015.

Six local authorities – the London boroughs of Barnet, Croydon, Hounslow, Sutton, Wandsworth and Westminster – failed to answer Inclusion London’s questions.

Hounslow was one of the worst offenders when Inclusion London carried out similar research in 2016, making cuts to the care packages of about three-fifths of former ILF-users. It now claims it does not hold updated figures.

But some boroughs have made significant efforts to support the care packages of former ILF-users.

In Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, and Barking and Dagenham, not a single former ILF-user has had their support package reduced since the fund closed in June 2015.

ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and by 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.

That transition funding has been guaranteed up to 2019-20.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “When the government announced the closure of the Independent Living Fund they assured disabled people that it was not a cut but a transfer to local authorities.

“These latest figures have once again validated concerns about the loss of essential daily support by those with the highest needs.

“What they don’t convey is the anxiety and distress experienced by so many former ILF recipients as they go through lengthy re-assessments and too often then have to battle for reinstatement of support that their local authority is trying to remove.”

She said the government’s decision to extend transition funding to 2019-20 had been made in response to campaigning by disabled people against the fund’s closure, but she pointed out that the funding councils receive is not ring-fenced.

Only 10 of the councils that answered the question said they had ring-fenced the government transition funding for former ILF-recipients, although only one – Greenwich – said it was not ring-fenced for adult social care.

Lazard said: “As responses to our FoIs show, a small number of London boroughs have so little regard for their responsibilities under this grant that they are no longer holding data about which of their residents are former recipients.

“We commend boroughs like Hammersmith and Fulham, and Islington, who are taking seriously their responsibilities towards provision of independent living support, but our research highlights the existence of a social care postcode lottery.

“It also raises the question of what will happen after the final year of the grant in 2020 and underlines why we need a national independent living support service, independent of local authorities.”

A spokesman for London Councils, which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, declined to say if it was concerned about the research findings, or if it had any explanation for the postcode lottery.

But he said: “At the time of the ILF closure, London Councils warned that any increase in the role and responsibilities of local authorities must be accompanied by an appropriate level of funding from central government.

“But between now and 2020, the funding gap in adult social care will be £300-400 million.”

He added: “There are many positive examples of social care services giving people more choice and control of the care they need to live independent lives for as long as possible.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) also declined to say if it was concerned about the research findings, or if it had any explanation for the postcode lottery.

But an LGA spokesman said in a statement: “While we understand the rationale for transferring former ILF clients over to local authority-coordinated care and support, the transfer must be seen in the wider context of budget pressures both at the time of the transfer and since.

“We recognise the tremendous value placed upon the former ILF scheme by former ILF clients and the sense of independence it generated.

“Councils have been doing all they can to ensure people have the same sense of choice and control and will continue to do so.

“But this is becoming increasingly difficult in the context of a significant funding gap, both here and now and into the future.”

Cllr Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, said: “We recognise that independent living support is critically important for disabled people to be able to participate as equal citizens.

“That’s why we guaranteed to continue our funding after the ILF was cut by the government.

“Without this funding, our residents – who are often the most excluded from everyday life – could have been left facing severe and adverse consequences.

“We have also abolished home care charges and invested an extra £3.4 million per year into adult social care.”

Last week, Cowan’s council was praised for commissioning a ground-breaking report on co-production and accepting its recommendations.

The Scottish government has set up its own ILF in Scotland.

The Welsh government announced in 2016 that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all the £27 million-a-year transition funding from the UK government directly to councils.

It decided there would be no continuation of an interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme it had been running as a stopgap since June 2015, and would not set up a new Welsh ILF.

Welsh local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.

Disabled activists in Wales, led by former ILF-user Nathan Lee Davies, are fighting the Welsh government’s decision to scrap WILG.

28 June 2018

 

 

Office for Disability Issues ‘taking no action’ to halt closure of DPOs

The government’s Office for Disability Issues is apparently failing to take any action to address “worrying” concerns about disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that are being forced to close because of funding problems.

Earlier this month, two prominent user-led organisations spoke out about the “urgent” need for research into the falling number of DPOs across the country.

Shaping Our Lives said it was seeking funding, and partners, for a major piece of research to uncover the scale of the problem, with its own figures suggesting that more than 60 user-led groups that were members of its network had been forced to close since 2014.

And Inclusion London, which supports Deaf and disabled people’s organisations across the capital, also raised concerns and said there were now a number of London boroughs without their own DPO.

But when asked if the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) was aware of and concerned about the problem, and if it was taking any action, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was concerned about closures but failed to suggest any measures it was taking to address the concerns.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The ODI is aware that DPULOs [disabled people’s user-led organisations] close on a fairly frequent basis, and are obviously concerned by this.

“The government takes the opportunity to work with them and support their work wherever possible.”

But when asked again whether it was taking any action to address the concerns about closures, another DWP spokeswoman said the department had “nothing to add”.

Last month, Disability News Service reported that the number of staff working in ODI had plummeted by more than two-thirds under the coalition and Conservative governments.

In March 2010, just before the Tory-led coalition came to power, there were the equivalent of 48 full-time staff working in ODI, but there are now just 15, while the ODI website has now not been updated in more than seven months.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said it was “reassuring” that ODI was “aware of and ‘concerned’ about the loss of these much-valued organisations”.

But he said: “It is very worrying that even though aware of what increasingly looks like a crisis, the [ODI] has no plans or even comment to make in response to the situation.

“Given that the ODI was originally established as a central government agency to support the independent living of disabled people and the development of a strong network of disabled people-led organisations, this makes especially troubling reading.

“There seems to be no plan A and no plan B. The only plan this government seems to have any confidence in is attacking the welfare rights of disabled people with its much-discredited welfare reform policies.

“The loss of DPOs is part of an even bigger crisis facing disabled and older people who are increasingly being denied a voice.”

28 June 2018

 

 

Relief after court rejects latest assisted suicide legal bid and highlights law change dangers

Disabled activists have welcomed the court of appeal’s decision to reject the latest attempt to legalise assisted suicide.

They spoke out after three senior judges yesterday (Wednesday) rejected the judicial review brought by Noel Conway, who is terminally-ill with motor neurone disease.

Conway had wanted the court to find that the Suicide Act – which makes it illegal to assist someone to take their own life – was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The high court had already dismissed the judicial review. Conway said he would now appeal to the Supreme Court.

The disabled people’s campaign group Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) had intervened in the court case, the first time it has taken such a step.

Phil Friend, from NDY UK, welcomed the court’s judgment, and said the group was “particularly pleased” that the court had recognised some of the concerns it had raised on the dangers of assisted suicide.

He said: “These include issues such as safeguards for people who might be at risk of coercion, the difficulties in predicting death within six months, and whether any scheme might be extended (as has happened in Belgium).”

Friend said that legalising assisted suicide “opens the door to risks and dangers driven by attitudes about disabled people and their lives”, and he said that no disability charity or organisation was campaigning for a change in the law.

He said: “We’ve seen two recent NHS reports which catalogue the systemic failures to provide appropriate care for disabled people, resulting in their premature and unnecessary deaths.

“Until disabled people are seen, and treated, as equals in our society, the law must protect them.

“We want support to live, not to die.”

Nikki Kenward, director of Distant Voices, another user-led campaign group which opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, said the court’s decision was “a great relief”.

She also drew attention to recent NHS scandals and highlighted the events at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, in which an inquiry found the lives of between 450 and 650 people had been “shortened” because of an “institutionalised regime” of administering dangerous levels of opioids to patients between 1989 and 2000.

She said she feared that legalising assisted suicide would lead to even less scrutiny of healthcare professionals.

Kenward said: “When whistleblowers, concerned distraught relatives, nurses, police investigations, complaints committees and the like are unable to raise the alarm to the authorities within the constraints of the current law it is especially concerning to imagine the dangers that lie therein should a change in the law have been granted.”

Another disabled activist, David Gillon, said the media coverage of the Conway case highlighted the dangers of legalisation.

He said: “When you look at the coverage of the assisted suicide campaign, newspapers and TV news consistently talk about disability as a negative, a reasonable cause to seek death, and then utterly fail to point out that no disability group is campaigning for assisted suicide, or that Not Dead Yet UK, comprised solely of disabled people, is leading the campaign against it.

“That neatly illustrates that society does not have a healthy enough view of disability to put our lives in its hands.

“Reporting of the assisted suicide campaign seems to be operating on a consensus that disability is bad, a perfectly good reason to kill yourself and that any dissenting voice is too confusing to mention.

“That’s why any change in the law on assisted suicide is not safe for disabled people, as the experience in Belgium and the Netherlands demonstrates.”

Conway, who is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, said he was “naturally disappointed” by the judgment, although it was “not unexpected”.

He said: “I am told that I can choose between letting nature take its course until I am completely unable to move or communicate; hastening my death by removing my ventilator with no guarantee my suffering can be completely relieved; attempting to end my own life at home in potentially painful and traumatic circumstances; or making the arduous and expensive journey to Dignitas and risking prosecution for any loved ones who accompany me.

“It is barbaric to force me to decide between these unacceptable options.

“I will keep fighting for myself and all terminally ill people who want the right to die peacefully, with dignity and on our own terms.”

NDY UK’s barrister, Catherine Casserley – from Cloisters chambers which, together with Fry Law, had worked pro bono – had told the court of appeal of the risk that disabled people could be subject to coercion if assisted suicide was legalised.

The three senior court of appeal justices highlighted this concern and also pointed in their judgment to a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners which expressed fears that a “right to die” could very easily become a “duty to die”, particularly “when financial considerations were a factor and the individual felt like a burden to their family”.

They concluded that there could be “no doubt that Parliament is a far better body for determining the difficult policy issue in relation to assisted suicide” than the courts because of the “conflicting, and highly contested, views within our society on the ethical and moral issues and the risks and potential consequences of a change in the law”.

Parliament has repeatedly rejected attempts to change the law on assisted suicide, including the latest effort by Labour MP Rob Marris, in 2015.

The three court of appeal justices agreed with the high court’s conclusion that the current law “achieves a fair balance between the interests of the wider community” and those in Conway’s position, although they expressed “profound respect for the dignified and resolute way” he had coped with his condition.

28 June 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com