Opinion: ‘Everyone has an equal right to live’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 2:00 pm
Danish player Christian Eriksen who collapsed at the Euros Photo: Shutterstock

It’s 2021 and the Euro 2020 championship is underway.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another football column. Yet even those who run a mile from football have probably heard about Christian Eriksen.

The Denmark midfielder collapsed on the pitch.

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His heart had stopped. As his teammates formed a human shield to create some privacy, the team doctor used a defibrillator to resuscitate him.

It was a horrifying moment.

Thankfully, Eriksen’s heart restarted and he was taken to hospital, where he continues to recover. The sound of the opposing Finnish fans chanting his name in support was wonderful to hear.

Resuscitation was also the basis of my question to the prime minister at PMQs. I wasn’t asking about Eriksen, but the number of ‘do not resuscitate’ notices given to people with learning difficulties.

First, we need some context.

Resuscitation isn’t what you see in soaps or dramas.

It normally doesn’t work, at least in hospitals, where patients tend to have complicating problems – the problems that put them in hospital.

For an ultra-fit football player, success is much more likely.

Your chances are reasonable even if you’re just younger and not unwell. That’s why the spread of defibrillators outside hospitals is a good thing.

But if you need a defibrillator, you’re technically dead. Should resuscitation work and you were already in a bad way, you will be worse afterwards.

So there are reasons for not attempting resuscitation. Rather than taking a rushed decision when a patient’s heart stops, it helps if these things are discussed in advance, including with the patient and their family.

Do not resuscitate notices take various initials (DNR, DNAR, DNACPR), but they all amount to the same choice. Of course, without one, the hospital may still decide not to attempt resuscitation. That’s a medical decision at the time. With one, the decision is already made. The key point is that the decision should be medical.

During the pandemic, GPs and care settings issued an unprecedented number of DNRs to patients with learning disabilities. This prompted the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to investigate last year.

The CQC found that many were unlawful and caused avoidable deaths. Both the CQC and NHS England provided urgent guidance that this practice should end. Shockingly, it continued.

Unlike Christian Eriksen, when Sonia Deleon was in a Southampton hospital, she wasn’t resuscitated. She had a DNR, which stated her learning disabilities as a reason. She died.

Sonia also had a range of complicating health conditions. I’m not in a position to judge whether the decision was medically right, but citing her learning disabilities as a reason was grotesquely wrong.

The hospital says it was an error. This must be independently investigated, along with the other cases now coming to light around the country.

Expressing his own concern, the prime minister stressed the importance of involving patients and their families. Guidance must be followed.

Above all, learning disabilities must never be a reason to let someone die – and no-one knows this better than the family that loves them.