When adult safeguarding became a hot topic 10 years ago, I didn’t feel it had a lot to do with me as an articulate, middle-class user employing my own personal assistants. Indeed, I was asked to speak at one or two conferences to put the alternative view and I was pleased to stress the importance of not being prevented from taking risks. However, something that happened a few months ago has made me think again.
I was rushed to A&E one Sunday morning with breathing problems and was diagnosed with pneumonia. The consultant explained the diagnosis and treatment and then went on to describe how I could sign the form for Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) so that it was on my file and then everyone would know that I didn’t want the struggle of being revived if the situation occurred again.
I agreed to it without thinking. Half an hour later my husband was shown in to see me and I explained what had happened. He was rather shocked and said I shouldn’t agree unless that’s what I wanted and I realised that I hadn’t fully taken on board the implications of the consultant’s suggestion. I was admitted for a couple of days and nothing more was said to me but it was impossible not to hear another consultant suggest the same course of action to two other people on the ward when they were on their own.
It wasn’t until I was discharged home with a letter for my GP that I saw that DNR was marked as the course of action and I would have to be proactive if I wanted it changed. Fortunately, my GP had some specialism in advising older people about this issue and after a full discussion by phone he was able to cancel the instruction and change the paperwork.
I subsequently had excellent follow-up treatment from the hospital where a mask was fitted to prevent the likelihood of further crises, with regular visits to a specialist clinic to check on its effectiveness. The consultant couldn’t have been more positive about seeing both my husband and myself, and the DNR form has not been mentioned again.
So what does this experience show me? Lying in hospital with pneumonia, as a 70-year-old disabled person, I was in an alien environment and vulnerable. Did the consultant see me, unconsciously, as someone he didn’t identify with so he followed professional protocol to the letter without thinking beyond what he could see in front of him?
Was it only when I was well again that he saw me as a useful and valued member of society with a reason for being kept alive?
A few months later I wondered what to share about this experience, if any. I raised it at the user group run by the Users Network, linking to the council’s safeguarding adults board (SAB). There was a shared understanding of the issue and it led to the group asking a hospital speaker to explain the required protocols at their next meeting and the chair raising the issue with the SAB.
How many others have found themselves in such vulnerable situations without family with them or a full understanding of the issues? Are the pressures of costs of hospital beds leading to such safeguarding issues? What extra protocols need developing to prevent the unconscious stereotyping that we can all be guilty of?
The writer wishes to remain anonymous but is a former social worker and service user.