Weekly Poll – COVID-19 Public Inquiry

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue.  For the week beginning 20 September 2021, we asked a question about the COVID-19 Public Inquiry

Results

Question 1. Do you agree with the aims and principles that have been drafted for the COVID-19 Inquiry? 

  • YES – 82% (42 respondents)
  • NO – 18% (9 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Impact on Disabled People

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on disabled people, which has exasperated existing inequalities. In Scotland, Disabled people account for 58% of all COVID-19 deaths among the over-30s, despite disabled people representing only 18% of the population. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on disabled people in terms of access to primary care, availability of essential supplies, changes to care packages, social issues such as isolation, services available and information received.

“Disabled people, especially those with immunosuppression issues were massively affected by COVID and are massively overrepresented in the death statistics.”

“Many of us were the first to lose jobs, benefits didn’t cover costs, we were at the highest risk of the virus while being told to just stay inside and have no contact with others. COVID killed a lot of disabled people while being told we didn’t need to go out or have money to do anything because we were too high risk to go out.”

“Disabled people as per usual faced the brunt of the pandemic, we lost services, we lost health care and we had to risk our health because people wouldn’t adhere to the COVID restrictions, while at the same time physical barriers were put in our way stopping us from being able to do the things we needed.”

“There needs to be a serious look at the additional harms done to disabled people, for example, missing hospital appointments due to cancelled clinics, inability to get primary healthcare delivered by GP’s, mental health issues only tackled online.”

“There were numerous news reports of how disabled people were given blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders. The way that disabled people were treated as expendable by society without considering them as individuals with a right to life.”

Shielding

There were specific comments about people in the shielding category who were advised to stay at home as they were identified as being at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Some respondents questioned whether they should have been included in the shielding category.

“The Inquiry must look closely at how NHS Scotland identified those on the Shielding list. Did all people who needed to be on this list get onto it?”

“I wasn’t told to shield, but due to the nature of my condition, I think I should have been. We need to look at how this group was compiled.”

NHS Services

Some respondents questioned how well-prepared the NHS was for dealing with the pandemic, when considering pre-existing staff shortages, treatment delays and supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“The Inquiry should cover the readiness of the Health Service in Scotland before the COVID outbreak. This should include the understaffing issues in nursing and doctors. It should also look at the number of beds available in hospitals—the provision of suitable equipment and PPE at hand at the beginning of the pandemic.”

“I feel if the Scottish Government wants a full and concise report on the COVID-19 situation they should include dates further back than 2020. Austerity changes aimed to reduce the numbers of health staff and services. This has played a considerable part in the current numbers of health staff not being good enough, waiting lists being unacceptably long, and why elderly were sent back to their care homes before they were fit enough, leading to the virus being spread round homes and so many people dying.”

“Why were the recommendations of the emergency pandemic exercise 2 years prior not listened to and why was enough PPE not bought and looked after – NHS Procurement is not just about driving the price down but making sure the people have enough protection for these major disasters.”

“I haven’t heard from my named GP since March 2020. Disabled people as per usual are left in a much worse place than before the pandemic and we are never going to get the answers as to why.”

“The other major point to investigate is the severely reduced primary care services. While many people will understand the need for redeployment if primary care staff during times of emergency, there are many questions to be asked about why we have dropped beyond level 0 yet cannot see a doctor.”

Essential Supplies and Services

A portion of respondents reflected on the challenges of accessing essential supplies, such as food, as well as access to services such as banking. This proved to be challenging for some due to a change in store layouts which were introduced to encourage physical distancing. People in the shielding category were given priority slots for online deliveries, however, in practice, some people found it difficult to gain access to the service.

“Access to basic necessities: access to food, access to banking etc was a major issue where I live – two banks blocked their disabled access – one barricaded and locked theirs; my nearest food place locked its accessible door (only allowing it to open from the inside), turning it into an exit only and put its inaccessible door as its entrance.”

“Disabled folk, I feel, were just left to manage. It took me ages to get food deliveries on a regular basis, and it costs much more. I told them many times I was disabled and still the issue continued. Therefore, the most basic of things; food, was difficult to get a hold of.” 

Infrastructure

Disabled people experienced difficulties with accessing their local communities due to a number of temporary infrastructure changes introduced through the Spaces for People programme. In some areas, pavement extensions had created a hazard by extending into roads without the inclusion of dropped kerbs. An increase in café furniture created additional street clutter which poses a danger to people with reduced mobility and visual impairments. The removal of blue badge spaces from city centre locations restricted access to vital goods and services. Poorly designed pop-up cycle lanes which incorporate floating bus stops do not take account of disabled people getting on and off buses.

“Seating for disabled people when we went down to tier 1 – my council wanted all soft seating removed including wipeable, disinfectable leather/alternatives to leather were removed and scared venues so much that they didn’t consider disabled people who needed those seats to access public spaces safely.”

“Disabled toilets were closed – meaning some people could not go out at all – some are still shut with COVID as an excuse.”

“Wheelchair users lost the right to use public buses in Aberdeen and couldn’t get taxis either because ‘we don’t want to touch the chair’. The hospital services disappeared.”

At Disability Equality Scotland, we conducted a poll specifically about the Spaces for People programme, which further highlights the challenges disabled people have encountered.

Face Coverings

When face coverings became mandatory in public settings during summer 2020, disabled people in the exemption criteria experienced bullying, harassment and hate crime. This was specifically where members of the public had approached and accused disabled people of non-compliance, despite having genuine medical exemptions. This caused disabled people anxiety and impacted their mental and physical health. In some cases, disabled people were deterred from going out and accessing essential food and supplies because of the fear of being confronted for not wearing a face covering.

“Face-mask exempt people were abused and refused access to buying the essentials. Going forward, we need clearer messaging which highlights people in this category.”

“Disabled people were made to feel bad by notices for masks that simply said that ‘You must wear a mask’ or that it is illegal not to etc. with no mention of exemptions.”

In July 2020, when face coverings became mandatory, we conducted a poll which found that 87% of members feared being the victim of a hate crime if they were seen not wearing a face covering in public.

Involve Disabled People

It is essential for the Inquiry to engage directly with disabled people who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In order to achieve this, it is important that the Inquiry embeds an inclusive communication approach by ensuring there are a variety of accessible formats available that match the communication strengths and preferences of each individual. For example, the consultation documents must be produced in audio, Braille, British Sign Language (BSL), Easy Read, Large Print and Plaint Text.

“I think it’s imperative that disabled people take part. People from all walks of life.”

“To get the real impact information, this will need to be gathered from the wide spread of elderly and disabled people who had to remain indoors taking great care not to be exposed because of the danger presented by the virus. Gathering that information will not be easy but can be done as demonstrated by some statutory organisations when preparing their initial Disability Equality Duties. At that time, they held meetings across their areas and search out the hard to reach to get the best representation they could, and it is that attitude that needs to be emulated in this Inquiry to ensure that the best results are achieved.”

“One issue with past inquiries is that the information from it isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, as disabled people were so badly affected. Perhaps it would be time to produce the reports in accessible formats so that all people can understand what went wrong.”

Recommendations

There was consensus amongst respondents that the Inquiry must feature a meaningful set of recommendations, which are legally binding, measurable and time bound.

“The Inquiry must be required to make recommendations via independent and unbiased, uninfluenced legal representation and referred to the Courts where necessary where there are suspected legal breaches.”

“Unless the recommendations for the Inquiry are legally binding then nothing will be done – past experience of inquiries shows that lessons are not learnt, and issues will carry on and be repeated again.”

“This investigation should be transparent, objective and overseen by educated members of the public.”

“We also need to learn from this Inquiry in case we are ever placed in a situation like this again. The Inquiry will more than likely be very difficult to hear from and it might be upsetting to a number of people, however we have to go through this to learn and to prepare for the situation in case another pandemic comes along.”

Timescales

There were mixed responses regarding the timescales for conducting the Public Inquiry. Some respondents believed that it should be conducted as soon as possible, so that the recommendations can have an immediate impact. Whereas others believed that it should take place once case numbers have stabilised.

“This Inquiry should be held as soon as possible, with results and recommendations made public. Full disclosure.”

“We are not clear of the pandemic and so starting an Inquiry now when we have uncertainty about the winter. It might be better to wait until Spring 2022.”

“Case numbers are still fluctuating. We need to reflect on the pandemic at a stage when we’re not being consumed by it.”

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial and devastating impact on disabled people across Scotland. Respondents reflected on the impact the pandemic has had on a number of different factors, including access to primary care, availability of essential supplies, changes to care packages, social issues such as isolation, services available and information received. It is therefore vital that the Public Inquiry gathers views directly from disabled people who have faced heightened levels of inequality across various factions of society. To achieve this, an inclusive communication approach needs to be implemented, using a variety of accessible formats that meets the communication strengths and preferences of each individual. The Inquiry must be conducted in an open and transparent manner resulting in a set of measurable and legally-binding recommendations.