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£20k payout for ex-Queen's student in discrimination case

Cystic fibrosis patient sued university over 'lack of support'


Allegations: Sarah Walker said she felt she had no choice but to quit her midwifery course

Allegations: Sarah Walker said she felt she had no choice but to quit her midwifery course

Allegations: Sarah Walker said she felt she had no choice but to quit her midwifery course

A former Queen's midwifery student has settled a disability discrimination case against the university for £20,000.

Sarah Walker, who has cystic fibrosis, said she had to withdraw from her course because the support she believed she needed was not put in place.

In settling the case, Queen's apologised to the 23-year-old, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, for distress she experienced but made no admission of liability.

Ms Walker began her degree in midwifery at Queen's in September 2018. The university was aware she has cystic fibrosis.

Within two weeks of starting, she developed a chest infection and was admitted to hospital.

During her absence, she was assured that reasonable adjustments were in place, including a note taker at lectures, and was told she would be able to resume her studies.

When Ms Walker sought to return to her course at the end of October 2018, she was told that she would have to withdraw for the rest of the academic year because she had missed too much of the first term.

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Queen's said she could return to her course in September 2019 and that they would arrange to meet with her beforehand to discuss reasonable adjustments.

A meeting took place on October 1, 2019. By this stage the new academic year had already started.

Ms Walker was unhappy with this meeting because at the start she understood the university's position was that she would not be able to return to her course until September 2020.

However, by the end of the meeting, she was told that she could return the following day.

Ms Walker believed that she was not given sufficient clarity as to the reasonable adjustments that would be put in place if she returned. This, and the course already starting, meant that she felt unable to return.

She said: "I just wanted to study for my chosen career in midwifery. I needed some extra support and, above all, some understanding of the lifelong condition that I live with.

"Unfortunately, I felt I had to withdraw from the course because I considered the support I needed was neither clear nor in place to allow me to progress."

Her case was supported by the Equality Commission.

As part of the settlement terms, Queen's agreed to liaise with the Equality Commission to review its equal opportunities policies, practices and procedures.

A Queen's spokesperson said: "The university wishes to underline its commitment to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and has a dedicated disability services team and a robust equality, diversity and inclusion policy.

"Queen's is committed to creating an inclusive environment and will continue to work hard to ensure any students with disabilities have the appropriate support in place for their chosen course of study and wider participation in university life.

"For students with disabilities, specific assessments are made and, where appropriate, support mechanisms are put in place.

"In line with regulations from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, students in the School of Nursing and Midwifery are not permitted to take part in clinical placements unless they have attended essential teaching.

"This is to ensure both the health and safety of the students, as well as the patients they encounter while on placement.

"The university is unable to comment on specific cases or legal disputes."

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