Northern Ireland news

Disabled people 'must be at the heart' of inquiry into government's handling of Covid

Wendy and Allan Newbronner with their children Rhys, Dean and Carter, from Newtownabbey

DISABLED people "must be at the heart" of an inquiry into the government's handling of Covid, a Co Antrim mother has urged as statistics showing the group is disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Other parts of the UK have recorded that six out of 10 people who died from Covid in 2020 were disabled - despite making up just 22 per cent of the population.

However, this data is not even collated in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health and Nisra has told the Irish News.

A survey of disabled people and carers by the charity Sense found more than three quarters (77 per cent) of disabled people want the inquiry to make sure mistakes are not repeated.

The pandemic has also exacerbated existing inequalities and created new ones, with increased difficulties food shopping and getting medical essentials and reduction in vital care support.

All the while isolation and loneliness levels have spiralled.

Nearly three quarters of disabled people believe their needs have been ignored and have not received enough support during the crisis - with 63 per cent reporting that their mental health has got worse, and more than half deterioration in physical health.

Wendy Newbronner (47) lives in Newtownabbey with?her husband and sons, Rhys (19),?Dean (16) and Carter (10), who are all deaf with complex disabilities and the family were advised to shield at the beginning of the pandemic.

"The first lockdown was particularly challenging with the closure of school. Autistic children depend so much on routine, so having that removed made things very difficult," said Mrs Newbronner, who is supporting calls for an inquiry.

"It was particularly difficult for us because our children have classroom assistance in school, and we didn't have that at home.

"I have to speak up because otherwise children and young people with disabilities don't have a voice.

"Their family members who speak out for them are not being heard either. Because of this, I am supporting the call for disabled people to be at the heart of the inquiry."

Sense chief executive Richard Kramer is asking the public to sign its petition calling on disabled people to be invited to give evidence and represented on the panel.

"We have to investigate the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on disabled people and the decisions and policies that have led to this outcome," he said.

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