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Ironic twist as Thurso disability campaigner struggles to access help for her own needs


By David G Scott

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A Thurso woman suffering from MS says she feels let down by NHS Highland and social services despite helping countless others with disability issues access those same services over the years.

Louise Smith was diagnosed with MS in 2008, uses a wheelchair and has reduced physical abilities on her right-hand side which means she struggles with personal care including showering and dressing.

"I had a bad fall in the bathroom recently when having a shower and am all bruised now," said Louise who is project officer with Caithness Disability Access Panel (CDAP).

Louise Smith has pushed for better services for disabled people in Caithness but says she is now struggling to access help for her own needs. Picture: DGS
Louise Smith has pushed for better services for disabled people in Caithness but says she is now struggling to access help for her own needs. Picture: DGS

"Preparing meals is also very difficult and I need help with that daily. I have a partner but he doesn't live with me and can't always make it over to see me. I have a lift cushion that inflates and brings me up to chair height but without it you can't get me off the floor.

"I'm very vulnerable as I'm prone to falls. Speaking to the NHS social care person on the phone she told me to dial 999 and get admitted to hospital if I don't think I'm safe. We have Covid to deal with and resources stretched to the limit [in the country] and I don't think I should be in hospital. I just need someone to come in and check that I'm not lying on the floor and give me a meal."

As project officer with CDAP, Louise has helped improve local services for disabled people in the county and led a campaign to award certificates to community buildings and hotels that had upgraded their disabled toilets.

"I've helped a lot of disability and community groups fill in application forms to try and get money and now I'm struggling to get help myself. The NHS and social care are not working quickly enough to keep me safe."

Louise says she feels let down by the NHS and social services. Picture: DGS
Louise says she feels let down by the NHS and social services. Picture: DGS

Louise said that her nurse sent her a Personal Outcome Plan (POP) referral form to complete and return to NHS Highland. "This was only after she raised the issue of their lack of response, three months after she’d originally written to them. Why didn’t they send the form three months previously?"

Louise said she couldn't believe the amount of information required on the 23-page form. "It's a disaster of a form. It's like they're hoping you don't fill it in. It's a lot of work which will probably [be] a waste of time as they have said that the waiting list is very long."

The disability campaigner feels that it is very ironic that she cannot access the help she needs and says that her treatment by the NHS made her feel a "lower class" of person. "I feel like they don’t consider me as a life worth protecting. My need is urgent and I think they should supply care within a week. In this day and age, is it right that I’m in danger of starving?"

Louise says she feels let down by the NHS and social services. Picture: DGS
Louise says she feels let down by the NHS and social services. Picture: DGS

After sending out a plea to her local councillors, Matthew Reiss and Donnie Mackay got in touch to see how they could help out.

On Tuesday afternoon Louise said: "I just had a call from the duty social worker in Wick as Donnie Mackay had called her about me. She phoned to say she has done the Care at Home referral but warned me there is a long waiting list. She found an existing POP referral form on their system so has used that rather than us having to fill it all in again."

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss said he will look into the matter and see how Louise can be helped.
Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss said he will look into the matter and see how Louise can be helped.

Thurso and Northwest Caithness Matthew Reiss said: "I've known Louise for quite a few years and am very well aware of the work she has done on disability issues. We can usually do a letter of support to help out in a case like this.

"I'll find out who she's been in contact with and get in touch with these people myself. It is ironic that someone who has campaigned on disability issues is having difficulty getting help for herself and I'll do what I can to understand the problem better and see if I can get some assistance."

Louise says she would like to see the NHS recruit sufficient carers to meet the community’s needs. "I would like the process for getting care to be a lot less complicated."

Related articles:

How a disability group helped with access issues at Caithness village halls

Caithness group tackles disability issues during Covid


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