Monday, 27 May 2013

Frontline Care, Funding Wars & another NHS Scandal

Earlier this year, in our search to uncover the truth behind the ongoing funding dispute over Chrissy's care, I made an official subject access request to view her records.

Two weeks ago we received three big boxes full of paperwork. For several days, each time I walked past them, I eyed them nervously, knowing that once I ripped the first box open I wouldn't be able to rest until I'd gone through the lot...

A week ago on Friday, when I pulled out the first jumble of papers, I was lost. I crouched over them for so long my whole body seized up. When I glanced up at the clock five hours later it was midday and I was still in my dressing gown. I pressed on. A fractured ankle in 2007 from banging her heels on a hard surface; a safeguarding alert where she'd wrongly been given Lorazepam by a trained nurse 'just in case;' an optician receipt - Chrissy had broken her carer's glasses by hitting her in the face. There were many similar incidents recorded from 2007 onwards. I spent the next four days reading the records, scanning in the ones that were relevant to our legal challenge and crying my eyes out.

I'd been made aware of all major safeguarding issues but I was stunned by the level of aggression that Chrissy had displayed towards carers and women she'd lived with. Maybe it had been underplayed so as not to upset me? We get the occasional smack at home but we can normally tell when it's coming and keep a safe distance. If we do get in the firing line the smacks rarely hurt as they lack power or aim. The point is - why had Chrissy (who has the intellectual functioning of a two-year old) been put in a position where she could keep doing this to herself and other people, and what did these behaviours say about her level of distress?

The documentation reveals that Chrissy's carers had struggled to get help from Chrissy's GP and psychiatrist and how they had been left to cope alone with insufficient support. I could see the impossible situation that they'd been put in, the high risk that Chrissy's challenging behaviour posed to herself and others, and why they had been forced to evict her. I read on to a report that described how some of Chrissy's carers were frightened of her and found her so exhausting that they couldn't work consecutive shifts with her. It was even implied in a carefully worded way that some carers had left because of Chrissy.

There's no doubt that Chrissy can be extremely challenging but she can be a delight too and has had a positive impact on many people's lives. It's clear that several of her long-term carers have become attached to her and been profoundly affected by meeting her. Over the years they've commiserated with me over how difficult her life can be but have also told me about happy times they've shared.

Last week, I had a chat with a lady who used to work with Chrissy before she went into hospital. She said: 'Chrissy’s such an amazing person and will always have a place in my heart… It was by working with Chrissy that I knew I had chosen the right challenging at times but so much more rewarding and satisfying by achieving the smallest of tasks. Please give her a hug from me…'

Later that day a nurse on Chrissy's ward described her in similarly warm terms. 'She's had us all in stitches with her hilarious comments....' she recalled. 'She's got such a fantastic sense of humour!'

One thing's for sure, no one forgets Chrissy once they've met her! Her challenging behaviours can be relentless and very distressing to witness but it crucified me to see her described as someone to be feared.

On the positive side - we got what we wanted from the records. We've uncovered extremely damning evidence that shows what was going on behind the scenes of the funding dispute. We knew that the PCT's 'if Chrissy was in a different 'autism-friendly' environment these behaviours would not occur' argument had failed because it could not be supported legally. Their second argument was even weaker. They acknowledged that Chrissy had had a recognised healthcare need before moving into the area BUT they refused to fund it on the basis that it was a pre-existing need. They were then told BY THEIR OWN SOLICITOR that this did not accord with NHS guidance so instead of coming clean and accepting responsibility, they came up with further ploys to dodge funding responsibility, including trying to pass the buck to two other PCTs. With the pre-existing healthcare needs argument they'd shot themselves in the foot by stating that Chrissy had healthcare needs before she moved into the area. In that case, shouldn't she have been eligible for continuing healthcare funding way before the local authority first applied for it in 2008?

The information we found explains a bizarre reason that Chrissy's psychiatrist gave for refusing to come out when a care home manager phoned her for help - because 'these behaviours aren't new.' Since their arguments to deny CHC funding failed legally the PCT have tried every other trick in the book to stall things. We don't see how they can wriggle out of this now and want an independent review. We will not rest until those responsible are named and shamed. We're appalled by what we've uncovered and how many people, including trained medical professionals, were party to this scandal. We acknowledge that Chrissy is extremely complex and needs high cost support but that's no excuse. We will never forget how funding issues exacerbated her suffering over a prolonged period. If we hadn't fought every inch of the way, God knows how this would have ended.

None of us should forget the wider implications of Chrissy's case - there must be other vulnerable adults, who don't have anyone to fight for them, suffering at the hands of unscrupulous NHS trusts.....

I support Unique & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Legal Challenges and our Hopes for a Better Future

It's been a tough week and at times I've felt overwhelmed. We've been dealing with solicitors over difficulties with the plans to move Chrissy on, and have seen a return of some of her old challenging behaviours. Issues with the quality of personal care she'd been receiving had resurfaced but, thankfully, they've been resolved again.

We've had crisis times like this throughout Chrissy's life. I'm painfully aware that some quality of personal care problems could be avoided if Chrissy lived with us full-time but, as we experienced this weekend, it could never work for a number of reasons. I discuss this dilemma in a previous blog Some adults with a learning disability can thrive in the home setting. Chrissy isn't one of them and this is the case with many adults with a learning disability that display severe challenging behaviours. Even when Chrissy is at her most settled, she is full-on and can't be left unsupervised. Her intellectual functioning is at a similar level to a two-year old's - imagine the difficulties that a stroppy adult-sized toddler would present - and then some! When Chrissy's unsettled, as she was this weekend, her moods are balanced on a knife edge and it's like living in a war zone. As part of our legal challenge, I've been reading through old care records and they're a brutal reminder of what day-to-day life can be like with Chrissy. These behaviours have proved impossible to manage even in residential settings geared up for such challenges.

We hope that the reversion to old behaviours is temporary. As Chrissy's Zonisamide has been gradually upped, she's had spells of wetting herself at night and sleeping excessively - but then those side-effects have worn off in time for the next dose increase. Now it's been increased to its optimum therapeutic level, which seems to have tipped her over the edge. On the unit last week she'd had nosebleeds and kept wanting to go back to bed during the day. When she came home on Friday, she seemed fine at first then her mood kept switching from tears to manic laughter to shouting and demanding things. She took to the floor several times, biting her toes and pulling her hair. She demanded the same things over and over, like a stuck record, but whatever we gave her wasn't enough. She was generally more irritable and destructive, and broke her laptop mouse when she threw her laptop across the room. Ian's bloody brilliant when she gets like this; he's so patient with her, much more so than me. I find these rage episodes and prolonged periods of distress completely draining and they throw up painful feelings - resentment, guilt, pity, anger, grief, fear, helplessness, inadequacy....

Chrissy complained several times that she felt sick and, because she kept getting 'stuck' in one place and couldn't move on, yesterday, she couldn't even settle down to eat. Everything from persuading her to take her medication to getting her into the bath took far longer than usual. Then, when we finally managed to get her into the car and back to the unit at around 5.30pm, she wouldn't move out of the car. These aren't quite the same as her frozen states because she isn't content to sit quietly in her own space. It was upsetting to see her so distressed again but she is still alert and has all her wits about her. In fact, at one point, so determined was she to stay put, that she locked herself in the car. We had keys of course but there's no moving Chrissy when she doesn't want to be moved! We got stuck at the unit for ages, and had to laugh as we swapped places with Chrissy. We thought that if we hid out of sight behind the entrance gates she'd get bored and call us to be let out. Not a bit of it! Eventually her care-worker had a brainwave - to move the car slightly closer just to jolt Chrissy out of her fixed position. It worked but she took to the ground outside and still refused to move. At least we got our car back!

So on to the legal challenge - I've posted previously about the Ordinary Residence and Continuing Healthcare funding dispute, which kicked off after we relocated to a new county when Chrissy moved into Adult Services at 19. The timing of our move and the fact that Chrissy's condition worsened afterwards turned her into a political hot potato. The upshot is that we've had to engage solicitors yet again because the funding dispute is still adversely impacting on her life. As my husband, Ian, puts it: 'If we hadn't kept driving things on, Chrissy would have been condemned to a wretched life.' As the funding dispute started in 2008, it's hard to understand why an independent higher authority haven't been brought in to resolve it by now. It looks like this nearly happened in 2011 but the commissioners intervened by agreeing to a process called 'local resolution.'

A local resolution meeting was held in November 2011 and they promised to put things right. They offered to carry out a retrospective continuing healthcare assessment, which would be a major step towards solving the funding dispute and determining who was responsible for funding Chrissy's care package. They promised to complete it by February 2012. We're still waiting. Now they say Chrissy can stay in hospital until they've completed the assessment and funding responsibility is determined - yet they still haven't specified a definite date......

We are also concerned that if they claim that someone else has funding responsibility, the other official body will appeal, which will then lead to further delays. So we've been forced to bring matters to a head and have engaged solicitors. Last week the commissioners replied to their letter before action. I've spent the past few days correcting facts and omissions in their reply, and adding further evidence to strengthen our case, ready for the solicitors to prepare for the next step. Is what they're doing actually unlawful or just poor practice?

Chrissy's case is further strengthened by a wonderful letter from Mencap. Quotes include: 'It has been extremely difficult for Mencap to understand why the situation has remained stuck for so long.....'The amount of correspondence that Chrissy’s family have had to engage in to try and understand the barriers, and to try to move things forward for their daughter is difficult to believe.....''There has still been no proper assessment of Chrissy’s needs on which to base the planning......' 'The Government is very clear that people with a learning disability should be supported to live in their own communities. There is no reason why Chrissy should not be living in her own home near her family. It is crucial that the accommodation meets her needs and that she gets support from staff who are able to meet her complex health and behaviour needs. It is also crucial that she can get the right input from medical professionals, when needed.....' 'Chrissy should have the same opportunity to enjoy life as other young women her age, with the right support. She should not be living in a unit....' 'I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for the situation to continue as it is. I think we can all imagine how damaging and stressful it is for Chrissy and her family.'

Let's hope that we're nearing the end of this damaging chapter in our lives and that the outcome will enable Chrissy to live her life in the way that she'd want to.

I support Unique & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger