DNARs Given to Patients with Mental Illness and Children with Learning Disabilities

The Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph

The newspaper’s revelation that "do not attempt resuscitation" (DNARs) orders were given to people with mental illnesses or learning disabilities during the pandemic was truly shocking and exposed how some of society’s most vulnerable members were facing potentially life-threatening discrimination.

In June 2021, the paper’s investigations team exposed how doctors had decided that patients with conditions such as schizophrenia should not be resuscitated if their heart stopped – a judgement which in one case appears to have led to a woman’s death. In their first piece, the team’s meticulously researched articles told the story of a woman called Sonia Deleon, 58. Sonia – who was known as Sone to her family and friends – had suffered from severe mental illness since she was a child and spent her adult life in care. During the pandemic, she was admitted to Southend Hospital and documents seen by the newspaper revealed how the terms “schizophrenia” and “learning disability” were given as two of the reasons not to attempt resuscitation. Shortly after this document was filled out, Sone died of a heart attack. In an interview with the paper, Sone’s sister, Sally Rose Cyrille, said that in issuing the order, the hospital was “writing her off". In order to tell this story, the team had to work closely with sources to win their trust and examine hundreds of medical records to find evidence that backed up the family’s accusations. But this was not a one-off case of a DNAR being inappropriately given. The team uncovered evidence of multiple incidents, despite NHS guidance saying that the term “learning disability should never be a reason for issuing a DNAR order or be used to describe the underlying, or only, cause of death”. The first story – which was on the front page of the newspaper – prompted the scrutiny it deserved when the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was questioned about Sone’s case by a Parliamentary Select Committee. In front of MPs, Hancock pledged to investigate and said that he wanted to “know” about any cases where people may have been “disobeying the guidance”. Later in the year, The Telegraph continued to shine a light on the issue of how those with learning disabilities were treated during the pandemic, when they exposed how treatment was withheld from some patients and even children were offered the DNARs during routine health appointments. Reporters sensitively interviewed the families of two teenage boys – Toby Woollard and Oliver Corns – in order to expose apparent prejudice within the medical system. The investigation into the misuse of “do not resuscitate orders” is a shining example of public interest journalism which holds decision makers to account and gives a voice to some of society’s most vulnerable members. It exposed shocking discrimination operating within one of our most trusted professions and brought the issue to the attention of those able to make changes.