Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Trust must meet care needs of patient in landmark legal case

A vulnerable man with learning difficulties has won the right to choose his own care after a landmark legal victory over a Northern Ireland health trust.

David McKenna has been embroiled in a three-year dispute with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust after his place at a multi-award winning care facility was jeopardised.

The trust said it would pay £21 per day for Antrim man Mr McKenna’s daycare, less than half the £47 charge required by the Bridge Training Unit in the town, which he has attended for the past 13 years.

The 49-year-old sought a judicial review of the decision and was successful, with a judge ordering the trust to make direct payments to Mr McKenna to finance his attendance at Bridge.

Bridge caters for 28 adults with learning difficulties.

Mr McKenna spends seven hours a day, five days a week at the facility. He said that the care he had received had saved his life, having battled with alcoholism in the past.

The drawing up of a new service agreement by the trust three years ago meant Mr McKenna and other clients could be moved to another facility.

With the backing of Bridge, Mr McKenna took his fight to court.

“I’m delighted we have won,” Mr McKenna told the Belfast Telegraph. “The trust wanted to put me somewhere else but I didn’t want to leave Bridge.”

The judicial review found the trust had “unlawfully failed” to assess Mr McKenna’s needs.

The trust must continue to pay for Mr McKenna’s care at the Bridge while the assessment is carried out as well as all the legal costs of the court action. “All David wanted was for the trust to give him the right to choose,” Bridge managing director Jacqueline Barnes said.

“This is a victory for the parents and carers.”

A spokeswoman for the Northern Trust said the case was still ongoing. “The reporting of this case to date has been misinterpreted,” she said.

“The high average cost to the trust for people attending Day Opportunities is £21 per day and the trust had previously offered this amount to Mr McKenna as a direct payment.

“In a judicial ruling last week the judge indicated that the trust should not base Mr McKenna’s care on average amounts, but that it should carry out a more detailed assessment of his needs.

“The judge did not stipulate what the level of the direct payment should be, but asked the trust to reassess Mr McKenna who was instructed to co-operate with this assessment. This will then determine the level of direct payment.

“The trust continues to seek to engage with Bridge to establish a service level agreement which the judge had indicated would be a more desirable outcome than direct payment. The trust continues to fund Bridge despite decreasing levels of attendance.”

Q & A

Q Why was the judicial review taken by David McKenna?

A He took court action after the trust offered him just £21 per day for his social daycare. The provision he currently receives at Bridge Training Unit costs £47 and he faced having to leave.

Q What services does Bridge Training Unit provide and why was he keen to remain there?

A Bridge caters for 28 adults with learning difficulties.

It runs a selection of courses including computing and horticulture, with those who use the service are given the opportunity to work towards NVQ qualifications. He said the care has saved his life having previously battled alcoholism.

Q What was decided upon in the judicial review?

A It states: “It is declared that the respondent (the Northern Trust) has unlawfully failed to assess the needs of the applicant; failed to assess the costs of satisfying those needs; and/or failed to audit the charge of £47 per day requested by the Bridge to see whether it is reasonable or not.” Mr McKenna now has direct control over the funding and can decide where it goes.

Q What next?

A The case will inevitably open the door for others in the same position as Mr McKenna to seek court action to acquire direct payments to cover the costs of the care facility of their choosing. 

Q What is the trust saying?

A In a statement the Northern Trust said it “continues to seek to engage with Bridge to establish a service level agreement which the judge had indicated would be a more desirable outcome than direct payment”. It stressed that it plans to reassess Mr McKenna.

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