The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far reaching and the health service has seen unprecedented challenges, acting in emergency-like scenarios in successive waves.
Prior to the pandemic, one of the aims of The World Health Organization (WHO) was to ensure the implementation of Article 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure access to the highest standard of healthcare. WHO seeks to promote strategies to ensure that people with disability are knowledgeable about their own health conditions, and that health-care personnel support and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disability.
Unfortunately, during the past 18 months, many patients both with new and existing spinal cord injuries (SCI) have found themselves without access to rehabilitation and therapies – the result of which has had a psychological as well as a physical impact on many NHS patients.
“At Shoosmiths, we have many clients affected by spinal cord injuries. In my work as a medical negligence lawyer in the Reading office, these patients have given me an insight into how the pandemic has affected their care.”
When the pandemic first hit, many who were already in rehabilitation centres across the country report being discharged home sooner than anticipated and others, who were awaiting transfer to a rehabilitation centre, were discharged home without any rehabilitation, to be told to await space on a specialist spinal cord injury unit.
Later on in the crisis, no out-reach visits or assessments could take place, leaving many patients feeling overwhelmed and isolated. WHO emphasised an undertaking to provide disability services within the community but the reality of the situation was that the majority of appointments were cancelled, postponed or took place via telephone or video call.
The emphasis from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the guidance for management of patients who required specialist rehabilitation during the pandemic was to provide “optimal care with the minimum burden on the NHS”. Unfortunately, this meant that many patients were left to adjust to life with a spinal cord injury feeling unsupported and disempowered.
Of course, the precautions in many cases are understandable, given the risk of increased respiratory complications in those suffering from SCI as well as possible underlying co-morbidities. However, the ramifications of a lack of direct, targeted rehabilitation is likely to have an ongoing effect on many patients.
It is too soon to see the long-term cost that these delays are likely to have had. In many cases, patients who have missed out on rehabilitation such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychiatric support will require the NHS to supplement their care at a later stage with a greater intervention than may have otherwise been required.
Therefore, whilst the crest of the pandemic may have passed, the ongoing demands and backlog of treatment required to patients indirectly impacted by COVID-19 remains to be seen.
Denise Stephens, partner dealing with serious spinal injuries in the Reading office says:
“At Shoosmiths, we work with our charity partner, Back-Up to support both those who have suffered a spinal cord injury and their families which includes helping them to deal with the implications of being unable to access the necessary support and rehabilitation services.”
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023