On Friday, December 6, 2013, Peter Brown wrote:
Hello, I wonder if someone at Forest can point me in the right direction.
I suffer quite badly from smoking induced Emphysema. I am not complaining, it is entirely my fault. However, this has now caused me to be diagnosed with COPD. It normally does not cause me any great difficulty but it is complicated by the fact that I also suffer from Rhinitis which means that my sinuses constantly allow mucous to drain into my lungs. That in itself, is not too bad to cope with until I get a nose 'cold' and the infection spreads immediately to my lungs which go into overdrive in the mucous manufacturing stakes.
Again, I can normally cope with this as my GP allows me to keep a stock of the steroidal drug 'Prednisolone' which normally makes things bearable after 2 or 3 hours. The problems occur if I get an attack at night when the lung infection has a chance to build up causing me to wake up in severe pulmonary distress because I cannot rid myself of the mucous quickly enough. This occurred 3 nights ago and though I can normally persevere until the Prednisolone takes effect, this time, I was forced to call for an ambulance and was admitted to hospital. My blood oxygen levels were down to 86 per cent.
I was treated in the ambulance with oxygen and also at the hospital which, together with a nebuliser treatment got me back to a reasonable level of oxygen intake. I had been trying for some time to get a home oxygen supply for such an emergency and broached this with the Emergency Department doctor at the local infirmary.
I was told that as I am a smoker, they will not allow me to have an oxygen supply because, they said there was a danger that if the supply was left on by mistake, it would be too dangerous to allow a smoker to use one. I asked if that applied to non-smokers who use a gas cooker, gas boiler or an open fire. I was told that it did not apply to them. I then pointed out that my GP considered me responsible enough to keep a supply of Prednisolone which is very limited on the amount that you can take and yet the hospital thought that I may be stupid enough to smoke when using oxygen in an emergency when I could barely breathe anything let alone cigarette smoke.
It was finally admitted that the hospital had a policy of not supplying oxygen to smokers because the smoking was the cause of my distress. I was also told that even if I should give up smoking, my illness will not improve, it will merely make my life slightly longer. As I am 66 years old and have been smoking since I was 11 years old. I do not consider the extra couple of months of extra life worthwhile compared to the misery of attempting to stop smoking after so many years of addiction.
I consider that the hospital's attitude is entirely unreasonable especially as Heroin addicts are not required to give up their addiction to receive treatment by Methadone yet they refuse me a home supply of oxygen for use in an emergency to allow me to get sufficient oxygen in my blood to prevent me from passing out. This could be fatal as I live alone and become, at times, incapable of calling for help until I get sufficient breath even to speak.
I believe (hope) that this policy by the hospital may be actionable under Disability Discrimination Law. Do Forest have any links to any legal advisors that can help me in this?
On Friday, December 6, 2013, Simon Clark wrote:
Thank you for your email. I'm afraid we don't have legal advisors (too expensive) and we can't give advice ourselves, for legal reasons. So it's Catch 22, I'm afraid. The best I can suggest is that you contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau and your MP who might take up the issue with the hospital on your behalf. (You don't say where you live. It would be interesting to know who your MP is.)
Our role tends to be media focused so when people contact us with problems including allegations of discrimination we take the story to the media in the hope that any publicity may prompt a positive response/outcome. We don't do that lightly however because we are conscious that going direct to the media can be counter-productive because it can sometimes entrench existing positions.
Please let me know the outcome of any contact you have with the CAB or your MP. In the meantime I wonder if I might publish your email on my blog - keeping the source strictly anonymous. It's an interesting case study that raises a number of questions and at the very least I would like to bring your situation to a wider audience.
On Friday, December 6, 2013, Peter Brown wrote:
By all means, use my email in your blog. I do not have any reservations about the use of my name or the [local infirmary].
On Sunday, December 10, 2013, Simon Clark wrote:
I would be happy to forward your email to your MP on your behalf. However he would need to be able to verify that you are a constituent so we would need your full address. (I would copy you in our correspondence and invite him to contact you direct.)
In the meantime, have you discussed your situation with your GP or appealed to the hospital to review their decision? Do you have anything in writing from the hospital that confirms their position?
On Sunday December 8, 2013, Peter Brown wrote:
I have not been able to see my GP as yet due to a usual 2 week waiting list but I may be able to have a phone consultation before them due to urgency.
I have not had any formal refusal of oxygen facilities, just two conversations with doctors in the Emergency Department and the [infirmary] when I was admitted and also with a manager in the Respiratory Team and a home visitor yesterday. They all inform me that it is hospital policy not to give oxygen equipment to smokers.
I can understand their concern to a degree, especially as there was a report in yesterday's Daily Mail that a 47 year old woman has just blown herself up. However, she was stupid enough to light up a cigarette when she was actually taking oxygen. I am not that woman. My doctor trusts my competence to hold a supply of Prednisolone which has strict rules on the amount of usage.
I only want the oxygen for an emergency such as happened the other night when I was close to passing out because I could not get enough air into my lungs. As soon as I was able to breathe sufficiently to get to other equipment such as my nebuliser, I would stop using it. If I should pass out, it is potentially very dangerous as I live alone. I could not smoke a cigarette in those circumstances to save my life.
The doctors have said that they would not refuse an oxygen system to someone who lives in a property with an open flame such as a gas cooker, a gas boiler (pilot light) or an open fire yet suggest that a cigarette itself is more dangerous. However, I have done some gas welding in the past and it is impossible to light the torch with a cigarette, it just makes the cigarette glow brighter. I strongly suspect that the woman mentioned above blew herself up when she struck a match or used a lighter with an open flame right alongside the oxygen outlet.
If you feel that it is worth a try, by all means contact my MP about this matter.
I have forwarded this correspondence to Peter's MP. I won't reveal who it is but what were the odds?!!
Watch this space.