Children with learning disabilities offered DNRs during pandemic

Children with learning disabilities were offered ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) orders during the coronavirus pandemic The Daily Telegraph has revealed.

The newspaper reported that two families were offered DNRs during routine appointments, which they say was only due to their child’s learning disability.

The revelations have fueled discontent at the way DNRs were used during the pandemic, with some authorities applying them in a ‘blanket’ fashion across some groups of vulnerable individuals.

‘Disgusting’ question

Karen Woollard said she was asked the question as she attended a check-up with her now 16-year-old son Toby, who has Down’s syndrome.

She told the Telegraph: “It is a disgusting question”. She added that it “should not have appeared. It was very upsetting”.

A child with a learning disability has to fight for so much, do they now have to fight for their life too?

She continued: “To be asked this question makes you feel like your child is at the bottom of the tree. A child with a learning disability has to fight for so much, do they now have to fight for their life too?”


Debbie Corns’ son Oliver, who has a form of autism, was asked the same question in an appointment she attended.

When asked about whether he wanted a DNR order applied, Oliver, then 15, initially agreed, before his mother corrected him, believing he did not properly understand the question.

Debbie shared how she was “devastated” by the question, and that she “collapsed on the floor crying” when she arrived home.

‘Save my life’

She and her husband asked Oliver the same question later “with the right language, support and time”, and in response he stressed that he would not want a DNR order applied, telling his father: “Dad, save my life”.

Both families have since received apologies, but said that they knew of other families with similar experiences, and Debbie implored other parents to check their child’s medical records to ensure no DNRs have been applied without proper informed consent being given.

Learning disability charity Mencap’s Dan Scorer stressed that “the 1.5 million people with a learning disability across the UK have a right to equal access to healthcare just like anyone else”.

CQC report

Last year, the Care Quality Commission found that DNR orders applied during the coronavirus outbreak may have breached the human rights of more than 500 people.

Their report detailed the evident use of ‘blanket’ DNRs as potentially “unlawful” and “discriminatory”, with 508 DNRs applied without the agreement of the person, their relative or carer between 17 March and 21 December 2020.

Responding to the report, a spokeswoman for Age UK, said: “It’s extremely disturbing that this report effectively stands up the notion that some older people’s rights to choose were ridden roughshod over during the pandemic.”

Also see:

Hospital ward

Covid-19 DNRs a potential breach of human rights for 500: Care Quality Commission

‘Unchecked discrimination’: COVID-19 DNRs for people with learning difficulties

Call for review into number of DNARs in Scotland as patients ‘not informed’

NHS asked some care homes to place DNR orders on all patients during pandemic

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