Remembering Stephen Armstrong

he Keys to Life has pledged to improve the health of people with learning disabilities  by ensuring that all those who work in health care understand the health needs of people with learning disabilities, how these can differ from the general population and to respond appropriately.

Perhaps these words have never been truer than in the case of Stephen Armstrong of East Kilbride.  In 2013, Stephen died from urinary sepsis less than 72 hours after going into hospital.   There have been a range of reviews but they have left Stephen’s family unsatisfied and his sister, Katherine is now pushing for a Fatal Accident Inquiry.

Before he went into hospital Stephen enjoyed an active life. He received 24/7 care all of his life and had good health and was never overweight.   He attended the gym twice a week, had been at the circus days before he became unwell, and had tickets for the wrestling the day he died.

But in hospital the evidence suggests that nursing and medical staff saw his learning disability first and as a person second.    Stephen was in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury but  Katherine believes hospital staff saw only a learning disabled man with a temperature who couldn’t use his legs and who had a catheter and therefore did not prioritise his treatment.

If they had understood  he had a spinal cord injury, it is likely medical staff would immediately start thinking about possible complications. Urinary sepsis is the most common cause of death after spinal injury and any infection would have been treated aggressively.

Stephen was admitted to hospital with a high temperature, drowsiness and possible pneumonia.   But it was nearly 22 hours after his admission that he was given intravenous antibiotics and had his catheter changed.  Key actions that could have made a real difference for Stephen

Yet Stephen had a health passport—his personal carer stayed with him in hospital—his sister was available for advice—there was a letter from the GP.  All things that we are told will make a difference .  Is what happened to Stephen “indirect discrimination”?  Maybe a Fatal Accident Inquiry could help us all know what needs to be done to meet that Keys To Life pledge.

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