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Study proves disabled people have been forgotten during pandemic

shadow of a person in a wheelchair overlooking a city in sunset
shadow of a person in a wheelchair overlooking a city in sunset Image credit: everypixel.com

A BBC investigation reveals thousands of deaf and disabled people have had their lives affected by the pandemic.

More than 3,300 people with disabilities took part in the study with almost 100 sharing their stories about missing medical appointments, seeing their mental health deteriorate and in some cases trying to take their own life.

Disability charity Scope said the results confirm disabled people “had been forgotten”.

Josselin, 14, has a rare condition which causes hearing loss, vision loss, the inability to walk or talk and she can only be fed through a tube.

The teenager from Wiltshire relies on vital services such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and respite care, but she has not had any appointments since March 2020.

Her mum Karen Tilley said: "Josselin really struggled. She just shutdown.

"I never thought [she] would suffer from depression like that.

"After about a month she started pulling her hair out and picking at her skin, she had cuts all over her arms."

As her wellbeing deteriorated Josselin was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs such as diazepam to manage the pain in her spine because she was missing out on physiotherapy.

"Suddenly she was put on all these new medications. There was just no support for us at all - it was horrendous."

In early 2021 Josselin’s dad Lee, 43, was taken into intensive care for five weeks after contracting Covid-19.

Now recovering from home the family has noticed the significant amount of support he is offered compared to Josselin.

Lee has appointments with an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist and is sent equipment to his home address to help him restore mobility.

Josselin has not seen a physiotherapist face-to-face since March 2020, her last eye test was carried out by phone and her cochlear implant has not been checked for almost two years.

Another person who has been left behind is Raya Al Jadir, 41, who was told if she contracted Covid-19 the health service could not guarantee her the level of care she needed.

The freelance journalist from London was warned it would be unlikely she would be considered life support.

"It made me feel alone and isolated. If I did end up in hospital and I was really sick - who was going to fight for me?" Raya said.

In late May she was finally able to go outside.

"Breathing the air, seeing the clouds made me feel part of the world again.

"As a disabled person, I feel like the weakest link in society. And now, because of Covid-19, no-one knows what to do with the weakest link.

"I don't think my life will ever return to what it was before March 2020."

James Taylor, executive director at Scope, said: "Millions spent months shielding, having to battle for basic support like healthcare, supermarket deliveries, financial support and social care.

"Horrifying reports of DNRs [do-not-resuscitate orders] being placed on people without their consent left many fearing they'd not get treatment if they caught the virus.

He added the government "must take bold action now to put disabled people at the heart of the recovery, and end the growing inequality".

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "Among other support, we have invested £2.4m to help charities offer vital projects to improve disabled people's physical and mental wellbeing.

"The government has provided a range of help for disabled people throughout this period and through our forthcoming National Disability Strategy we are going to go even further in addressing issues that disabled people say affect them the most."

Nearly 2,000 told the BBC that they had left their house on only a few occasions since the start of the pandemic.