This series of blogs takes a closer look at the Coughlan judgment, its implications for long-term care in the community and how an understanding of the clinical facts of the case can assist you in your fight for CHC Funding. In today’s blog, we address the Court of Appeal’s statement that Ms. Coughlan required “services of a wholly different category” than those that could lawfully be provided by Social Services. If you missed Part 1 of this series, follow the link below!
Read Part One of this series – But Pamela Coughlan is not really eligible for CHC, is she…?
As we discussed in Part One, the Court of Appeal’s findings in respect of Ms. Coughlan’s care requirements in 1999 continue to underpin the eligibility criteria for Continuing Healthcare funding to this day. Of particular importance was the judge’s statement that Ms. Coughlan and her fellow residents required “services of a wholly different category” than those that could lawfully be provided by the Local Authority.
As one insightful commenter has helpfully explained under Part One of this series, the judgment also clarified the legal division between the type of care delivered by the NHS and Local Authority in the community: the Local Authority could provide nursing services as part of a package of care, but only if those services were “merely incidental or ancillary to the provision of accommodation”, and of a “nature” that Social Services could reasonably be expected provide.
“The NHS does not have sole responsibility for all nursing care. Nursing care for a chronically sick patient may in appropriate cases be provided by a local authority as a social service and the patient may be liable to meet the cost of that care according to the patient’s means. The provisions of the Health Act and the Care Act do not, therefore, make it necessarily unlawful for the Health Authority to decide to transfer responsibility for the general nursing care of Miss Coughlan to the local authority’s social services. Whether it was unlawful depends, generally, on whether the nursing services are merely
- incidental or ancillary to the provision of the accommodation which a local authority is under a duty to provide and
- of a nature which it can be expected that an authority whose primary responsibility is to provide social services can be expected to provide. Miss Coughlan needed services of a wholly different category.”
- v. North and East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan
Read the full judgment here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/1999/1871.html
In the Judge’s view, Ms. Coughlan’s needs were not “merely ancillary or incidental” to the provision of her accommodation, and were of a “nature” the Local Authority could not be expected to meet i.e., the services Ms. Coughlan required as part of her package of care were of a “wholly different category” than those expected to be provided by Social Services.
Let’s have a closer look at the nature of Ms. Coughlan’s needs and shed some light on the Court’s seemingly mysterious findings.
In Part One of this blog, we used the Spinal Injury Association’s description of Ms. Coughlan’s care requirements to assess her “level of need” in each of the twelve care domains on the 2018 Decision Support Tool. On our assessment, Ms. Coughlan presents with one SEVERE level of need in Other Significant Needs; three HIGH levels of need in Continence, Mobility and Drug Therapies; one MODERATE level of need in Skin; three LOW levels of need in Breathing, Nutrition and Altered States of Consciousness; and four NO NEEDS in Communication, Psychological & Emotional Needs, Cognition and Behaviour.
|Care Domain||Level of Need|
|Psychological & Emotional Needs||NO NEEDS|
|Drug Therapies and Medication||HIGH|
|Altered States of Consciousness||LOW|
|Other Significant Needs||SEVERE|
If you’re preparing for a CHC assessment, read our selection of helpful blogs on the subject which will let you know what to expect at the MDT:
Looking only at the assessed levels of need, it is difficult to understand why Ms. Coughlan was described as requiring services of a “wholly different category” than the vast majority of people living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, particularly those who require 24-hour care in a residential setting. However, once we apply the “Primary Health Needs Test” to the evidence gathered in the twelve care domains, the reasons for the Court of Appeal’s description should become clear.
As anyone who has pursued a claim for NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding will know, eligibility depends on the application of the Primary Health Needs Test, a.k.a. the Four Key Characteristics of Nature, Intensity, Complexity and Unpredictability. If one or more of these criteria are found to be met, the person’s primary need is for healthcare; i.e. their needs are more than ancillary and incidental to the provision of accommodation and require care of a nature the Social Services cannot be expected to provide. The Decision Support Tool explains that “each of these characteristics may, alone or in combination, demonstrate a primary health need, because of the quality and/or quantity of care that is required to meet the individual’s needs. The totality of the overall needs and the effects of the interaction of needs should be carefully considered when completing the DST.”
If you’re preparing for a Continuing Healthcare funding assessment for yourself or on behalf of a friend or relative, read our essential tips on how Covid-19 has affected the process!
Let’s have a closer look at the four Key Characteristics and how they might be applied in Ms. Coughlan’s case, using the summary of needs from the Spinal Injuries Association. We shall begin by setting out the nature of the needs.
IMPORTANT – The analysis of the “nature” of the needs should be the longest and most detailed of all the characteristics. The nature characteristic should provide a comprehensive picture of the person’s holistic needs, clearly setting out their daily care requirements in each of the twelve care domains as well as the interventions required to meet them. If this description is not sufficiently detailed, it will be impossible to apply the intensity, complexity and unpredictability characteristics appropriately.
This describes the particular characteristics of an individual’s needs (which can include physical, mental health, or psychological needs), and the type of those needs. This also describes the overall effect of those needs on the individual, including the type (‘quality’) of interventions required to manage them.
Ms. Coughlan was seriously injured in a road traffic accident in 1971. She sustained a complete C5/6 spinal cord injury. The cervical spine is located between the shoulders and the skull. In general terms, the higher the injury to the spinal cord, the more debilitating the effects. As with the majority of C5/6 spinal cord injured people, Ms. Coughlan was left with complete tetraplegia (with sensory and motor paralysis), meaning she has no sensation or movement below the level of her injury. There is no treatment for a cervical spinal cord injury, resulting in a need for life-long care.
There is a common misconception that CHC Funding is only available to elderly people in care homes, but many young adults also qualify. Find out more here: Who is entitled to CHC?
As a result of her injury, Ms. Coughlan is only able to breathe diaphragmatically; she wears a corset during the daytime to keep her chest upright, without which she would suffer shortness of breath. Paralysis of the respiratory muscles means Ms. Coughlan is unable to clear pulmonary secretions through coughing and, therefore, is susceptible to chest infections. (Breathing – LOW)
Ms. Coughlan maintains a healthy BMI and is not at risk of malnutrition. Her swallow is unaffected by the spinal cord injury and she is able to take normal consistency food and fluids. While there is no acute risk of aspiration due to dysphagia, were Ms. Coughlan to aspirate food or fluids, she would be at greater risk of infection due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Ms. Coughlan can eat independently using a spoon strapped to her hand, provided the food is cut up for her. Someone needs to hold a cup whilst she is drinking as her hand would spasm if she touched a hot cup. (Nutrition – LOW)
Ms. Coughlan is doubly incontinent and is unable to relieve herself without skilled assistance. She wears continence pads in case of accidents, but these rarely occur. Intermittent catheterisation is performed by nursing auxiliaries every three hours to ensure frequent emptying of the bladder. Fluid intake is carefully managed to prevent overfilling, which can trigger an attack of autonomic dysreflexia, see below. Ms. Coughlan is unable to evacuate her bowels independently and requires the insertion of docusate suppositories and digital removal of faeces (‘manual evacuation’) every second night. A cervical spinal cord injured person has no sensation below the level of the injury, meaning their body cannot tell them in the usual way when they need to use the toilet. All the body can do in such a situation is to trigger its “high alert” system, which it does by dramatically raising the person’s blood pressure. This condition is called autonomic dysreflexia. Episodes are life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency. Urinary tract infections, constipation and other similar complications can quickly lead to autonomic episodes if not treated early. Manual evacuation procedures can trigger attacks of autonomic dysreflexia and as such require particular skill. Because of the ongoing interaction between autonomic dysreflexia and bladder/bowels, expert management of Ms. Coughlan’s continence needs is essential. (Continence – HIGH)
Autonomic dysreflexia is a rare condition. Even experienced clinicians do not always recognise the immediate risks to the individual and the need for urgent care. Listen to Tracy’s story of a frightening experience at A&E here.
Ms. Coughlan has no skin sensation or perception of skin damage due to sensory paralysis below the level of her injury. She has high vulnerability to skin breakdown as she is unable to change her position in bed or wheelchair without assistance. Even minimal pressure below the level of the spinal cord injury can quickly lead to an attack of autonomic dysreflexia; choice of clothing fabric and careful positioning are essential. Should skin breakdown occur, risk of autonomic episodes is extremely high. Ms. Coughlan requires repositioning approximately 8 times per day to maintain skin integrity. She is able to tolerate up to 12 hours sitting in a wheelchair so long as regular pressure-relief is afforded. Ms. Coughlan uses a silicon-foam cushion in her wheelchair, but tolerates a standard mattress providing she is turned (side-to-side) 3-times throughout the night (at 0200, 0600 and 0900h). She returns to bed for intermittent catheterization every 3 hours (typically for a 10 min duration), which affords regular pressure relief. Despite pressure-relief strategies and expert management, Ms. Coughlan has suffered pressure ulcers on her bottom. Although these areas are now healed, they remain highly vulnerable to further breakdown. Skin breakdown is extremely dangerous for a spinal cord injured person due to the interaction between compromised skin integrity and autonomic dysreflexia. Should breakdown occur, healing process would be lengthy and complex. Expert management of skin integrity is essential. (Skin, including tissue viability – MODERATE)
Ms. Coughlan is tetraplegic, meaning she is paralysed in the lower part of her body with no movement in her legs, and limited movement in her upper torso. She has no triceps function in her arms. Ms. Coughlan requires a full hoist, operated by 2 people, for all transfers and needs to be turned regularly when in bed. Careful positioning and choice of fabrics are essential to avoid pressure below the level of the spinal cord injury, which could trigger autonomic attack. However, once transferred into a wheelchair Ms. Coughlan has a reasonable amount of independence as she has retained some (very limited) use of her hands with which she can manoeuvre her electric wheelchair. Ms. Coughlan does not require a regular programme of active or passive physiotherapy or exercise, although being assisted to stand twice per week using a special frame helps with maintaining appropriate organ positions and strengthening her bones. The process of standing requires expert supervision due to increased risk of autonomic episodes and hypertension. (Mobility – HIGH)
Ms. Coughlan retains some (very limited) use of her hands with which she can write (with a pen strapped to her hand). She remains completely mentally aware, can access the Internet, converse freely and represent her views articulately. (Communication – NO NEEDS, Cognition – NO NEEDS)
Ms. Coughlan’s medication is routinely prescribed and administered by mouth; Senokot, Calcium and, Iron. She does not require a complex daily regime of medications. Ms. Coughlan requires the insertion of docusate suppositories for bowel management every second day. She has constant neurogenic root pain in her left foot which is not amenable to control by analgesics. In the event of an episode of autonomic dysreflexia Ms. Coughlan requires the emergency administration of nifedipine under the tongue. Skilled anticipation of the need for this medication may be required. Skilled, continuous monitoring of Ms. Coughlan’s condition pre-and post-administration is necessary due to the long-lasting effect of the medication and the increased risk of constipation. Autonomic dsyreflexia exists on a continuum; the risk of attack cannot be permanently recued or removed, although expert care planning can reduce the likelihood and severity of episodes. (Drug Therapies & Medications: Symptom Control – HIGH)
Ms. Coughlan is only able to breathe diaphragmatically and is at medium risk of fainting if her air flow was inhibited. This is managed by wearing a ‘corset’ – abdominal binder – which keeps her chest upright. Ms. Coughlan is at increased risk of fainting when using her standing frame. (Altered States of Consciousness – LOW)
Poikilothermia: Because of her injury Ms. Coughlan is unable to maintain her core body temperature, which is unstable and variable. Ms. Coughlan is able to tell when she is too hot or too cold and therefore proactive monitoring is not required regarding this aspect of her care.
Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a unique condition arising from a cervical spinal cord injury, characterised by sudden and extreme hypertension (very high blood pressure associated with sweating and pounding headache) as a result of pain or injury below the spinal injury site (C5/6). Anything that would normally be painful, uncomfortable or physically irritating may cause dysreflexia following spinal cord injury. If left untreated, autonomic dysreflexia can lead to a stroke, epileptic fit or even death and for this reason should always be treated as a medical emergency. It first manifested in Ms. Coughlan ~20 years post-injury, highlighting the idiosyncratic nature of the condition. Episodes were initially very unpredictable – sometimes once per month, at other times several times in a week. They were usually triggered by overfull bowel/manual bowel evacuations or overfull bladder and were controlled by emptying the bladder by intermittent catheterization or by pausing the manual evacuation procedure and elevating her head (to lower blood pressure). On all but one occasion, this management prevented the need for vasodilators (nifedipine). Autonomic dysreflexia exists on a continuum and is highly unpredictable. Mitigating the risk of AD attack requires continuous monitoring, anticipation of symptoms and timely, skilled intervention. An absence of AD attack should not be interpreted as a reduction in the degree of risk or the likelihood of future occurrence. (Other Significant Needs – SEVERE)
As should be apparent, the type of services Ms. Coughlan requires throughout the 24-hour period relate to the careful management of her physical health, without which she would be at critical risk of cerebral injury and even death.
Ms. Coughlan’s care team requires specialist knowledge of the unique challenges arising from a cervical spinal cord injury, and in particular autonomic dysreflexia.
As Tracey’s story above demonstrates, even experienced A&E clinicians, who see a wide variety of patients every day, have often never encountered autonomic dysreflexia, and are unaware of the critical risks it presents and the need for urgent care.
Owing to the nature of her needs, Ms. Coughlan requires services of a wholly different category than those that an authority whose primary responsibility is to provide social services can reasonably be expected to deliver.
While many sufferers of Dementia, Alzheimer’s and stroke also need full assistance to meet their continence, skin, mobility and medication needs, the nature of the interventions often does not exceed the type of services the Local Authority can reasonably be expected to provide, i.e., routine assistance with eating, drinking, washing, dressing, toileting, moving around safely, maintaining skin integrity and ensuring compliance with routinely prescribed oral medications. The staff meeting needs of this type would not usually require any additional skills or particular training. None of these interactions would require the oversight of a trained nurse, or other similarly skilled professional, due to the risks to the individual should poor care, or difficulty, arise. Were care to be missed for some reason – e.g. non-compliance, staff shortages, emergency – there would be no immediate, urgent risk to the person’s safety, i.e. their life would not be endangered. None of these statements would be true of Ms. Coughlan.
This concludes our examination of the Nature of Ms. Coughlan’s needs. We hope you have found it informative. Next week we shall apply the Intensity, Complexity and Unpredictability characteristics to the information we have gathered about Ms. Coughlan’s daily care requirements to see if any of those criteria are met.
Don’t miss Part 3, “Ancillary and Incidental to the Provision of Accommodation”, coming next week!