I was in the privileged position of sitting in a room with three nurses and we were just shooting the breeze after concluding a really good meeting about how to shape services for disabled children...
“Here’s an example of where we got it wrong recently,” one of them started. “We had a case where the mother of a child with very high needs and complex disabilities was pregnant. All of us - community health, social services,” she gestured a big circle, “sprang into action. We put in place a really comprehensive care package to look after the family and her disabled child whilst she was in hospital and recovering because she wouldn’t be able to do it and look after new baby.”
I nodded. Sounded reasonable.
“But we were way off the mark. When we spoke to mum what she wanted was a home birth and for us to help dad take a couple of weeks off because he was self-employed and without some financial support he couldn’t afford to take the time out. We did the sums and this was going to be miles cheaper than the care package but we weren’t allowed to do it because the policy says we can’t pay someone in the same household to deliver care. As a result, mum went into hospital, the taxpayer spent a fortune on an external care agency and dad didn’t get to bond with his new family.”
It was now time for me to shake my head. It’s an all too familiar story.
A couple of weeks ago a freedom of information request found that taxpayers’ money for direct payments had been spent on a mini-van for a disabled person and for a pedalo ride for another. There was outrage in the press about scarce public money being frittered away like this.
Sadly, the tabloid mentality misses the point. Disabled people are normal too. They have the same wishes, desires, interests and passions as the rest of us. They just need a little more help in accessing them. The fact of the matter is, however, that helping them access these services we all take for granted is phenomenal value for money. A single week in an NHS care bed costs well over £1500. If a disabled person can spend a couple of weeks in their own camper van it saves the public purse a lot of money very quickly. The fact that they are happier because that’s what they want to do is even better.
We can either spend a lot of money institutionalising disabled people or we can spend some money helping them lead normal lives. I know which is cheaper – it’s also more effective and more compassionate.
Back in the room, another of the nurses chipped in. “I had a wonderful conversation with one of my mums the other day that encapsulated everything about delivering effective services in an efficient way that help people deliver the best outcomes,” she said. “When I asked her what her aspirations for her disabled son were she thought for a while and said, ‘I want him to pay tax when he grows up.’”
This time I nodded emphatically.