Disabled People - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:21 pm on 9 May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 1:21, 9 May 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce; pain is such an important issue. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for securing this debate on issues facing people with disabilities. Disability can be complicated and varied, as has been illustrated by this debate today. Disability is covered by many different government departments, so it may be difficult for the Minister in today’s debate to answer all your Lordships’ questions; perhaps she may be able to write to us.

I take this opportunity to say a few words about the Spinal Injuries Association. I declare an interest because, about 40 years ago, I started it and am its president. Most of our members have experienced traumatic injuries and life-changing experiences. Our members, who are often paralysed from the neck or back down, do not have feeling in that region. The three Bs are affected: bladders, bowels and bed-sores. There is a need for more advanced technology, such as superior wheelchairs, turning beds to help prevent bed-sores, suitable houses—with all the new houses being built, I wonder how many are suitable for people using wheelchairs—and all sorts of communication devices, the number of which increases all the time. I am sure that, in the next 50 years, there will be some wonderful developments. However, I was disappointed when the Government did not back the disabled access Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, two years ago. It aimed to improve access; many people use electric wheelchairs and, without a ramp, it is impossible to get the wheelchair up a 4-inch step. These ramps are not expensive, but many people do not know about them.

All spinal cord injury people should and must have access to specialist spinal health services, and the NHS must commit to funding the additional capacity it identified in its own service review of spinal cord injury services. There must be a joined-up approach between health and social care, with each ensuring that disabled people are given the means to live independently, contribute to society and make the most of their lives. There must be independent monitoring and scrutiny of NHS continuing healthcare to ensure that the most vulnerable in society are enabled to live independently. The Government should explain how they intend to make £855 million-worth of savings from this national continuing healthcare by 2020-21. We cannot see how it can be done.

On Tuesday, I attended in the Cholmondeley Room the launch of myelopathy.org. It is dedicated to improving patient outcomes in cervical myelopathy—an under-recognised, progressive, painful and disabling condition—through scientific and clinical research, education, and collaboration with patients and the wider myelopathy community. The team is excellent, led by a charming Austrian doctor and with volunteers, some of whom are enthusiastic medical students. The team is based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. This gave great encouragement to many people who were there. I feel that we should all support each other, as our needs are often very similar.

Antimicrobial resistance—AMR—is an escalating global threat that puts millions of lives across the world in danger. We cannot rely on the development of new antibiotics alone to mitigate this threat. We need better preventive measures, as well as alternative treatments, including innovative ways to use the body’s own immune system and healthy bacteria. There is a new white powder called micropore particle technology, which is a treatment for wounds—Acapsil is the trade name. When placed on the wound’s surface, the particles use microcapillary and evaporative forces to remove moisture from the wound’s surface, removing the toxins and enzymes excreted by the microorganisms. This support of the immune system enables the immune cells to selectively remove the unwanted microorganisms, while preserving the wanted micropopulation, removing the infection and, it is hoped, closing the wound. It functions as a passive immunotherapy. The Spinal Injuries Association is very interested in this and hopes that it will be accepted on to the NHS list. It could well save millions of pounds, as pressure ulcers cost billions of pounds a year across the world. Perhaps in the next 50 years there will be all sorts of interesting treatments.

Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, had a debate on antimicrobial resistance. The noble Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and I spoke of Achaogen. This start-up company in America is developing a therapy that was given FDA approval in July 2018 for the use of plazomicin in complex urinary tract infections. Sadly, the company filed for bankruptcy in April. The problem is that this new, much-needed drug was approved for use but there is no revenue to support it. Novel antibiotics such as this one get a relatively narrow indication for use, because the antibiotic is not broad-spectrum. It was targeted at the infection, which is what is needed because of drug resistance, but the sale is limited. Many spinally injured people get urinary infections, and resistance is growing to the present drugs for that problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked a question that I now ask again—I hope that we will get an answer. What will happen to this drug? It can treat the most serious superbugs. Will it be bought and developed by another company? It is needed. Urinary tract infections are very serious if untreated.