Archive for April, 2011
An interesting recent case
There have been a number of legal applications made claiming infringement of human rights relating to healthcare. Many relate to hugely difficult issues such as the right to refuse treatment, dignity relating to terminal illness and such like. The case described below centres on another important area, allocation of limited resources.
There are increasing issues in the western world generally regarding obesity and an increasing number of overweight people, many of whom have tried repeatedly to lose weight by dieting, but who are now seeking medical intervention such as gastric band treatments. So, how to determine who should be entitled to such treatment on the NHS and with what criteria ?
In this case, the complainant, who was seriously overweight but below the relevant Primary Care Trust’s threshold for treatment and therefore was refused such treatment, claimed that his human rights had been breached because the PCT had a policy of excluding social factors in deciding whether there were exceptional circumstances such that a person outside of the physical criteria should get the treatment.
The application was rejected, primarily because in this extremely difficult area of legal rights generally and human rights in particular, the courts have sidestepped the issue under article 8 by stating it shouldn’t apply to medical resources on the basis that article 8 places no positive obligations to provide treatment. Consequently, whist human rights are often invoked in relation to medical issues under article 2, such as the right to life, the courts have been very slow to reduce the amount of discretion generally available to health authorities in the very difficult area of allocating finite resources.
Child maintenance update
An increasing number of fathers are going to prison due to missing child maintenance payments. This is a political and practical hot potato – on the one hand, if no action is taken, this send out a message that it is acceptable not to financially support children. On the other hand, if a father is in prison, this removes his ability to pay and possibly in the future and deprives the children of contact with their father.
The figures suggest that the number of fathers imprisoned has tripled over 3 years to the current number of more than 50. In the period from April 2007 to March 2008, 25 people were imprisoned for missed payments and 480 had suspended sentences. The increase is demonstrated by the fact that from April to October 2010 35 parents went to prison and 635 were given suspended sentences: the final tally is expected to be at least 50 and 900 respectively. Apparently, average sentences for debts are 48 days.
There remains a huge underlying problem with collection of payments by the CSA. Since 1993 it has fallen short by a huge £3.8bn in the amount of money it should have collected and the system remains very hit and miss, as evidenced by the fact that the CSA sought to send to prison one father who owes £700 but many are not pursued adequately or at all despite owing thousands.
The CSA stated that “It is highly unusual for anyone to be sent to prison .. magistrates must be satisfied that a parent has wilfully refused or culpably neglected to meet their financial responsibilities.”