‘Improve Services Or We Will Sue’

Hospitals, schools, local authorities and even the police face legal action if they fail to comply with sweeping new laws requiring that all public bodies improve services for the disabled. The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has told The Times that it is prepared to sue any public body that fails to produce and implement proposals on raising standards of care for the disabled and eliminate all remaining discrimination.

The Disability Equality Duty came into effect last Monday and aims to stamp out “institutional discrimination” against the disabled in the public sector and make sure that their needs are factored in when services are planned, not just added in at the end. The duty affects all schools, colleges, universities, police forces, local authorities and even government departments as well as hospitals, primary care trusts and strategic health authorities — 45,000 public bodies in all.

However, it is the NHS that faces the greatest challenge in convincing the commission, which will police the new duty, that it can eliminate all discrimination.

A formal investigation into health services carried out for the commission this year reveals that people with learning difficulties and mental illness die, on average, ten years younger than the rest of the population, often from preventable diseases because routine tests and screening are not carried out or symptoms are ignored by medical staff.

Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC, says that he is prepared to sue any public body that breaches the new duty, and that there is no excuse for not involving local disabled groups from the outset.

“We are not looking for a fight. We have gone out of our way this year to help public bodies to get their schemes ready. But if we find that there are schools or strategic health authorities or PCTs out there who are not complying with the new law then we have a duty to go to court,” he says. “The DRC was established to implement the law and we will make sure that we do that.”