Down Syndrome Ireland along with other advocacy groups recently raised concerns that the critical care guidance released by the Department of Health was unclear and could result in patients with disabilities not getting equal access to the care they need. In response to these concerns the Department has released a supplementary information paper on the issue.
The “Ethical Considerations relating to critical care in the Context of Covid 19 – Supplementary Information” paper now makes it clear that no single factor including having a disability should be taken in isolation as a determining factor in accessing critical care or ICU beds during the pandemic.
The document also explicitly states to healthcare professionals that frailty, comorbidity and disability are distinct from each other, and that caution is needed when making clinical judgements about who is likely to benefit from intensive care when treating people with disabilities.
It also clarifies that in some cases, a person with a disability may require additional supports such as personal or family assistants, independent advocacy, decision-making and other communication supports.
Responding to the new paper, Nicola Hart, Head of Member Support Services with Down Syndrome Ireland, said: “We are glad that the Department of Health listened to our concerns and acted. People with disabilities and their families will feel reassured as there is an acknowledgment that safeguards will be needed to ensure there will be no unfair discrimination or systematic de-prioritisation of any group when accessing critical care.”
The paper also acknowledges that in the specific context of COVID-19, people with disabilities may face increased health risks because they live in congregated settings or because they have pre-existing medical conditions which leave them more vulnerable to infection and serious illness.
“Now that the supplementary paper has been released it must be urgently communicated to all healthcare professionals to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities to have equal access to appropriate healthcare are upheld,” Ms Hart added.
The charity expressed its support for everyone working to help people during this unprecedented crisis, and assure our healthcare workers, our front line workers, the National Public Health Emergency Team, the Department of Health and HSE services that their work is very much appreciated.