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Minister for Care shines spotlight on spinal cord injury in landmark moment

All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury – 3 March 2021.

Helen Whately’s attendance at the ‘All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury’ has highlighted the significant issues facing spinal cord injured people nationwide.

Dozens of healthcare professionals, charity representatives and spinal cord injured (SCI) people joined MPs from across the political spectrum in attending the latest virtual meeting of the ‘All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on SCI’.

Helen Whately MP, Minister of State for Social Care, attended the meeting and made a formal commitment that the specialist Spinal Centre beds that have been repurposed for general medical use during the pandemic, will revert back to Spinal Centre use after the crisis has subsided.

And she also agreed to a meeting with Owen Patterson MP (APPG Chairman) and Spinal Injuries Association (who hold the APPG Secretariat) to thrash out ways of working together to improve the lives of the SCI community.

The commitment to return specialist Spinal Centre beds is hugely significant, because historically when beds have been repurposed to deal with ‘winter beds pressures’ in the NHS, they haven’t always reverted to Spinal Centre use afterwards. This has eroded the national capacity of the Spinal Centre network and so reduced the availability of beds to newly injured people, leaving them isolated in more expensive Major Trauma Centre beds without the specialist input and support to help them start to come to terms with their SCI, and learn the skills needed to manage their condition going forward.

The Minister was able to take various questions on issues such as overall bed capacity in the Spinal Centre network, the impact of Brexit on care, staffing pressures in the NHS and the impact of the pandemic on allowing family visits to patients in Spinal Centre and care settings. Her answers showed she had a detailed grasp of the issues, which bodes well for future meetings with her.

The first half of the APPG saw two presentations – firstly from Benita Hexter, Clinical Specialist and Lead Physiotherapist at Stanmore Spinal Centre, who was speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Multi-disciplinary Association of SCI Professionals (MASCIP). Benita delivered an excellent and powerful presentation on the enormous impact of the pandemic on the NHS and specialist Spinal Cord Injury Centre services.

This was followed up by a presentation from SIA’s Campaigns Manager, Dave Bracher, who discussed from a patient perspective the consequences of the pandemic on SCI people. Dave has a spinal cord injury himself, and so was able to use his practical experience alongside his professional knowledge to offer a moving account of the challenges the SCI community face.

“On behalf of the APPG, we would like to extend our collective thanks to Helen Whately for engaging with the APPG, and for her willingness to work with the APPG and SIA in the future to constructively address the issues affecting the spinal cord injury community” said Dave. “The success of this meeting, and in particular the vitally important commitment by the Minister to return the beds repurposed due to the pandemic to Spinal Centre use, reinforce the importance and influence of the APPG and SIA in supporting and advocating for the needs of the 50,000 spinal cord injured people in the UK.”

More details of the APPG and how you can invite your MP to join this important Group.