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TX: 14.09.06 - Disability Rights Commission

PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY
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BARCLAY
People with the worst health are receiving the worst healthcare, according to the largest study ever undertaken. The Disability Rights Commission or DRC which works to stop discrimination and promote equality for disabled people says a belief that those with mental health problems or learning difficulties will die younger anyway or don't look after themselves has led to poor healthcare provision. The study analysed eight million health records and the DRC says that unless the situation improves the government could face a legal challenge under new disability laws.

Liz Sayce is Director of Policy and Communication at the Disability Rights Commission. Liz, give us some examples that your investigation came across of people with the worst health receiving the worst healthcare.

SAYCE
Yes, well I've just been talking with somebody who actually had undetected breast cancer but because she had a mental health problem her GP simply talked to her about the mental health difficulties, didn't do any physical investigation, even when she said that she had difficulties which actually were to do with the spread of breast cancer - weight loss and things like that - none of this was investigated at a physical level. So there's this tendency to see the mental health problem or the learning disability but miss sometimes very serious physical health conditions behind it. There are other - for people with learning disabilities there's problems like someone else I've just been talking to who didn't understand how he had to take the treatment, it was a new treatment, he couldn't find out - he tried to ring up and find out - the result was he ended up in accident and emergency because he took the treatment wrongly.

BARCLAY
Did you get to the bottom of why this is happening?

SAYCE
We found that these groups have the biggest killer diseases, things like heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, they get them younger and they die of them faster. And there are several different reasons - poverty is a factor, for some groups smoking and lifestyle things. But there's a clear challenge to the health service in what we found. In some cases health services are not giving people even the same levels of healthcare, some things like the right treatments for heart disease, things like that, but perhaps even more importantly these groups of people need targeted attention, sometimes you have to make the service that bit more flexible, you have to make it possible for say somebody with a learning disability to understand how to take their treatment.

BARCLAY
But is that down to pressure of time on GPs and other health professionals, down to lack of training on disability issues?

SAYCE
We found that doctors and nurses and others round the country do want to turn this situation around. It is partly training and we are working with the Department of Health, we've got a recommendation that all doctors and nurses in their training should be taught how to guard against just seeing the mental health problem and missing physical health problems. But I don't think you can argue that it's just a question of time and pressure because the whole point of the health service is that it should provide the best service for the people with the biggest health problems and the biggest health risks, that's what it's there for.

BARCLAY
So what do you want to see done then?

SAYCE
We want leadership by government from the centre, we want practical steps in primary care - things like letting - giving people text reminders of their appointments, often very simple things, but from government and from the people planning health services in every area they've got to analyse the health needs of these populations and work to close these gaps of inequality and track it over time. And we'll be watching to see if these gaps are closing because at the moment the differences in life expectancy are really stark.

BARCLAY
Liz Sayce, Director of Policy and Communications at the Disability Rights Commission.



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