Feb 23, 2021

People with learning disabilities slapped with ‘do not resuscitate’ orders

Emergency Department: Doctors, Nurses and Surgeons Push Gurney / Stretcher with Seriously Injured Patient towards the Operating Room. Light Dramatically Turns on.

At the peak of the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 outbreaks, doctors were faced with the appalling situation of having to choose which patients will receive life-saving mechanical ventilation.

They had two options. 

One, they could consider if the patient had ‘do not resuscitate’ orders in place, as some guidelines for public health emergencies said anyone with DNR status could be excluded from getting ventilators or other life-saving healthcare.

The second option was to exclude groups of people for which resuscitation might be futile or harmful, such as patients who score poorly on frailty tests.

Of course, the devil was in the detail, and when it came to implementing these impossible choices it has emerged, following an enquiry by the UK’s Care Quality Commission, that ‘blanket decisions’ were made about DNR orders related to some people with learning disabilities who score on some measures as ‘frail’.

It became apparent that some people with learning disabilities had DNR orders imposed on them, regardless of their wishes or needs, and without their knowledge or consent.

“It is unacceptable for decisions to be applied to groups of people of any description,” the CQC wrote in its report.

The CQC has continued to investigate the matter, and is expected to release a report within weeks.

The Guardian is now reporting that people with learning disabilities have continued to have DNRs placed on their files, even after the CQC’s damning findings.

Mencap, a UK charity that supports people with a learning disability, is calling on the government to prioritise people with learning disabilities during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, said, “People with a learning disability have long been forgotten and discriminated against, and never more so than in this crisis. 

“They have died at greater rates, had Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) orders slapped on their files and suffered through severe isolation. 

“The services and support they rely on have been removed and their physical and mental health has suffered – many are struggling to cope.”

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