Friday, 28 August 2009

Disabled Students and University

Record marks again in A-levels and yet more news that there are not enough university places for all the applicants.

Being an A-level student is never easy – you spend hours studying, even more hours worrying that you may not get your grades and then you have the daunting task of securing a university place! But take a moment to imagine you are a disabled student.........

Not only do you have to deal with all of the above but you have the added issue of ensuring your choice of university has suitable accessibility, that you can have access to appropriate care and that a support network can be to hand. No problem I hear you cry but don’t forget that the clearing system allows you less than a month to choose your preferred course and appropriate university together with looking at your access, accommodation and care requirements.

It can come as no surprise then that many disabled students feel they are at a disadvantage and are left floundering at this daunting prospect.

I can relate in many ways to this. I was lucky enough to attend the University of Brighton and I had no problems securing an offer of a place on the academic side. However, on a personal level, my parents had to sign a letter of declaration stating that they would be responsible for finding me suitable accommodation during the first two years of my study as the University did not have accessible accommodation until my final year. This was back in 1994 and obviously pre-dates the DDA and SENDA (which came into force in 2001). It is therefore disappointing to see that nothing has really changed.

A recent survey by Trailblazers revealed that:-

• One in four universities do not have rooms for hired carers, forcing disabled students to live at home rather than with their fellow students.
• 30% of university inter-campus transport is inaccessible to disabled students and, despite having disability advisors, one in ten universities do not have good links with local care agencies and support services.
• One in ten students will not have accessible accommodation, cooking and dining facilities which are fully integrated into mainstream university life.
• Only just over half of all UK university teaching rooms, study rooms and libraries are fully accessible to students with a disability.
• Nearly 40% of universities do not provide a freshers' guide to the university for disabled students.

As part of my business, I have worked with many universities to ensure that the full understanding of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) which came into force some 8 years ago is fully implemented. Unfortunately, I can only advise and recommend – I cannot force them to make all the changes that are needed. From this experience, I can safely say that many apply the gloss without the undercoat i.e. they may put in the signage and ramps but they forget about the hidden barriers.

There is a responsibility for all educational institutions to ensure that they look further than the physical environment. They must take into account attitudinal issues and be seen to actively promote disability equality in all areas.

Disabled students are frequently on the peripheral of educational life and are often made to feel “separate”. Drastic measures need to be taken to ensure that they are included into mainstream student life and can reap the just rewards of our educational system.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Unacceptable Care at St Helier Hospital

I spoke recently of my visit to the Accident and Emergency Department of St Helier Hospital and I thought I would talk some more about this and the unacceptable level of care I received.

After I went to A&E, the hospital decided to admit me for tests and they moved me into the clinical assessment unit (CAU) where I would stay for 24 hours to be observed and to undergo tests. However, after 24 hours, I was then moved to one of the general wards where I was welcomed in the most appalling manner.

First thing they wanted was to transfer me to one of the ward beds which did not have cot sides and these are essential for me as it puts me at risk of falling out of the bed if these are not in place. Eventually after about an hour of shouting and generally annoying them, I was finally allowed to stay in the bed that I came up to the ward in. Why could the medical staff not see the risk that was right in front of their eyes? Are they so blinkered as to forget common sense?

The second issue that occurred happened shortly after I was settled. The Ward Sister came into my room without even bothering to introduce herself or even talking to me at all. What ever happened to common courtesy?

She proceeded to tell a Staff Nurse “well actually he should be nil by mouth because that’s what his notes say”. I listened in horror as in fact, my notes did not say this at all. I had been removed from nil by mouth earlier in the day! Pointing this fact out to her resulted in the Sister looking at me in a condesending way, issuing me with what can only be described as a growl and then walking out of the room only to reappear half an hour later and state “well actually his notes say he does not need to be nil by mouth”.

Thirdly, and probably more worryingly, I require assistance with personal care including going to the toilet etc. However, the nurses would not offer assistance with this, nor feeding me food or giving me a drink or suchlike. They never once offered to assist me with any task apart from the usual dispensing of medication etc. I had my own personal assistant with me but this should not change the duty the nurses have to provide individual care based on the patients needs. This has been brought up in my earlier blog regarding Disability Equality Duty as the NHS are bound by this.

All in all, I was glad to be finally discharged but there are serious questions that the NHS and St Helier Hospital in particular need to address. Level of care must be to the highest standards for all patients alike and on this occasion, as in many in the past, they were sorely lacking.

A Recent Experience of Accident & Emergency

Following a recent incident, I had to go to St Helier Accident and Emergency department in Carshalton, Surrey where it took considerable time (well over an hour) to move from an ambulance stretcher to one of the A&E beds. However, I do use the word "bed" loosely as it was little more than a trolley with a bit of padding on it!

Whilst I do understand about the use of limited resources and lack of funding within the NHS, surely A&E beds should be one of the most important things that should be addressed. In fact, I feel it is a priority and certainly a necessity.

The other harrowing thing I found about lack of resources was that they had no spare pillows! Even I would have thought that funds were available to supply something so simple. This sort of practice is appalling and has given me an even worse of impression of St. Helier Hospital than I had in the first place.