Court orders Plymouth to do more for morbidly obese woman
A morbidly obese woman who says she needs help getting out of bed managed to make it to see her favourite boy band, The Wanted, in concert, a top judge has heard.
The woman says she needs up to 50 hours a week of care, which Plymouth City Council is challenging in court, insisting her worst enemy is her own “dependency” on the state.
Whilst recognising that, as well as her obesity, the woman suffers from a personality disorder brought on by a traumatic childhood and bereavement, the council insists she can do far more for herself than she believes and too much publicly-funded care will actively harm her.
At London’s High Court council lawyers acknowledged the genuineness of her “subjective” beliefs about the level of care she needs, but claim:
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Despite her plea that she cannot use a washing machine or tumble drier without help, she is able to operate “far more complex equipment” – including a computer and games console.
She has proved herself able to buy alcohol, cigarettes and IT equipment – whilst claiming that “extreme paranoia” prevents her going out to buy food unaccompanied.
Her difficulties in getting out of bed are due to a “lack of motivation”.
She managed to attend, by herself, a ‘The Wanted’ concert in April last year, whilst claiming that she could not walk to her local shops or go out in public without a chaperone.
To tackle her obesity, she can “make choices” about her own diet and buy the low fat, healthy, ready meals recommended by her weight management programme.
She has become “emotionally and psychologically dependent” on council-funded support and, based on the advice of a consultant psychiatrist, she needs to “take responsibility for her own life and break her reliance on the support of others”.
Whilst agreeing that she “requires treatment” for her “psychological” problems, too much care and support from others for her “perceived needs” will be “counter-therapeutic” and “detrimental to her well-being”.
Despite those claims, the woman’s lawyers are bidding to convince the High Court the council is legally obliged to lay on a full care regime for her, including support staff to help her wash and dress herself and cook her meals.
Her legal team says the council must also provide staff to accompany her when out shopping, when she goes to the gym or weight management classes and when “she goes to a disco on Friday nights”.
Her barrister, Irena Sabic, said she has a history of self-harm and drug overdoses and her care needs were recognised by the council until May last year, when “direct payments” – enabling her to live in a supported home – were withdrawn.
So paranoid that she cannot take a bath, without a “trusted” person keeping watch outside the door, she said the woman at one point did not wash herself for months on end.
“In desperate need of support”, the court heard, she finds it difficult to get up in the morning, “whether or not she has been drinking”; can’t cook or clean for herself and cannot go out in public without enduring extreme anxiety.
Miss Sabic accused the council of failing to lawfully assess the woman’s community care needs and provide the help she so urgently requires to have a reasonable quality of life.
And she disputed council arguments that the woman “requires no care services whatsoever, that she’s over-reliant and it’s a question of choice”.
James Dixon, for Plymouth City Council, said an “impasse” had developed, with the woman and the council taking diametrically opposed views on the amount of help she needs.
He claimed the woman had often failed to “engage” with council offers of support and advice to help her tackle her “psychological” problems and told the court: “The key question is her willingness to take responsibility for her own personal care”.
In a preliminary ruling, Judge Stephen Males QC said there was “complete disagreement” between the woman and the council over the level of care she needs, with Plymouth arguing that more help is likely to make her “worse, rather than better”.
However, he said the council’s assessment of the woman’s requirements was “at least arguably unlawful” and ordered Plymouth to put in place a regime to cater for her “immediate and urgent” needs pending the full hearing of her judicial review challenge.
The ruling means the council must, at least temporarily, lay on support workers to help the woman wash herself, cook and clean her flat and to accompany her to the shops.
The judge stopped short of ordering the council to provide chaperones when the woman attends the gym, her weight management programme or Friday night discos.
Stressing that he was in no way pre-judging the issues in the case, the judge said the council’s position “may ultimately be vindicated”.
The full hearing of the woman’s case is now expected to take place in May this year.