BBC exposes shocking medical failures at an ATU resulting in terminal cancer diagnosis

Tuesday's BBC News at Six covered the story of family carer Janet Shaw whose son Ian has been diagnosed with a terminal form of testicular cancer. Ian spent nine years inside an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) where Janet and those around her believe his medical needs were routinely ignored. Janet had spotted and reported signs and symptoms before he was eventually moved out into the community but it was only after a recent medical assessment that the tragic news of Ian's cancer was revealed.

The subsequent BBC investigations have revealed that important parts of Ian's healthcare monitoring were not carried out, a finding which sadly represents a wider culture of failing healthcare for people with learning disabilities and/or autism inside these units. Sir Stephen Bubb, the prominent campaigner and advocate for people with learning disabilities, branded the instutitional care system "abusive" and called for change. Appalled by Ian's case, he wrote to the Prime Minister Theresa May to ask her to urgently install a new Learning Disability Commissioner to look out for the rights of people with learning disabilities nationwide.

This call has been backed by the CBF although chief executive Vivien Cooper warned against a view that there would be any single fix for the variety of issues faced by people with learning disabilities. In a statement she said:

"Children and adults with learning disabilities form a wide and diverse population with large spectrum of support needs. Equally wide-ranging and extensive, however, are the disadvantages and discriminations they face through their lives. The systems that are meant to be in place to support them are not at all robust or well-coordinated. We are still relying on out-of-date policy - the most recent policy document specifically addressing the needs of people with a learning disability dates back to 2009 and intentions to develop a new “learning disability framework” have been shelved and delayed by the Department of Health.

While there is no “one thing” that will resolve all of the issues currently experienced by people with a learning disability, the appointment of a Learning Disability Commissioner would be helpful. Having somebody in this role would provide a champion for people with a learning disability - in the same way other Commissioners act as powerful voices for other members of society – to ensure that children and adults with learning disabilities have full access to all mainstream support and services, as well as specialist support and services when required. But a Learning Disability Commissioner alone will not be able to enact the change we all want to see - it requires the backing of a clear strategy, resources and implementation framework. We urge the new Government to focus on establishing these comprehensive foundations so that children and adults with a learning disability can exercise their rights and enjoy the same life opportunities as anybody else.The Government replied with a statement."

The Government responded to requests for comment to the BBC by saying that they were confident their approach could deliver for people with learning disabilities and their families without the need to create a new Learning Disability Commissioner role. 

You can watch the BBC's report on Janet's case on the iPlayer here (note that this link will expire on Wednesday 12th July at 6.30pm) 

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