28 Feb 2022

Lawyer 'extremely concerned' for healthcare of disabled after hospital visit

2:23 pm on 28 February 2022

With thousands of new cases of Covid-19 emerging in the community everyday, there are concerns about what the surge is going to do to the already-stretched healthcare system.

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(File image) Photo: 123rf

This was laid bare by academic and disability rights lawyer Dr Huhana Hickey, who tweeted about her experience at Middlemore Hospital, which is at the epicentre of the current outbreak in South Auckland.

She wrote that "with electives cancelled and other appointments cancelled, it is inevitable some of us with disabilities and chronic health conditions will struggle to get access to care and treatment will get harder".

Dr Hickey told First Up she knew there would be changes at the hospital, where she was sent by her doctor, amidst the Omicron outbreak.

"I was aware that they were triaging or they were meant to be, but when I arrived, the security guy, who's not a health professional, tried putting me next to a woman coughing and looking very Covid-sick, and I said to him I'm not going there.

"And it was against the woman I said ... 'you were meant to triage us separately' and he wouldn't do it. So I refused to go in. I waited across the road at for the nurse to come out and do the triage. So instead of going straight in, it was about an hour.

"Then I got in and I had to wait at the reception area for another half an hour. It was wall-to-wall of very sick people inside the emergency department entrance reception area."

When she got in, a man turned up without being shown through, and although he said he was having a heart attack, the nurse asked him to go back to the area with the security guard, Dr Hickey said.

"I am well aware from lived experience with others that it can be a matter of seconds in your dropping with a heart failure and so that was a concern ... it was a bit of a concern. I was feeling my anxiety rising so I really had to keep calm."

She said she was struck by the staff who always stepped up in emergencies, despite the workload.

"But it was almost like there was something missing from the old days and it was like they were on automatic. They were in a routine and that routine kept them going and that seemed to be what was their safety need, was to keep that routine going.

"Before 2020, it was always busy, there was always a lot of people, it was overflowing, and it never seemed to have any kind of order, well, there's definitely order in there now, when you get inside, not at that front area. Once you get in, they were very much on automatic.

"So when I got up to the ward, I was talking to several of the staff. All of them are very on edge. They're all exhausted and there weren't that many there, but they had a very good routine and they absolutely appreciated, as a disabled person, that my partner was coming in to do my cares because they were run over and I said to them, 'we always do that' and they were willing to help. But I said 'no, you go and do your work, I have somebody that's able to assist me'."

Dr Hickey said she was "extremely concerned" for care for the disabled and those with chronic conditions.

"I've been spending the last few months sort of talking to different disabled, telling them what to pop in a pandemic kit, what to do to prepare your bag so you're ready to go if you need to go up, make sure you've got your meds and be prepared that you may not be able to have everything that you're wanting, so you need to have a plan now.

"I was aware already that Ministry of Health were going to reduce the health providers that the DHB employ for when say like seniors go home from hospital and they get carers.

"Yesterday, a social worker told a 70-year-old woman, who is disabled, who has cataract, who is brain injured, who's caring for her mother, and she was going home yesterday and she said to her, well put the referral in, but you won't be getting any carer supports for about two to three months because we can't do it. As of yesterday morning, they had cut those services.

"And I'm very scared for our community ... I would definitely recommend any disabled person that does get Covid or get sick with anything else, go in by ambulance, don't go in yourself and wait in that line, because that's far too dangerous."

She said when resources became tight, it felt like disabled people were left to fend for themselves.

"I've lost friends to Covid, all disabled. And overseas, they put the do not resuscitate, DNRs, on them ... they put it on intellectually disabled in the UK, USA. They tried to put it on here. I'm aware that they wanted to, but they didn't yet, but this is where the surge of Covid, where the danger comes in, that when resources become tight, disabled people have got to learn."

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