Dear First Minister,
I have now raised this twice with the Scottish Ministers, I have not received a response. I am now doing so by open letter to you directly.
As you are aware, under the Equality Act 2010, disability is a protected characteristic. As you are also aware, the act (and precedents surrounding the act) recognise discrimination in all forms, including by way of association with someone with a protected characteristic.
Public services have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate for both the disabled person and persons associated with them.
In the implementation of the COVID vaccine rollout, carers were put into phase 6, which means most should have had the vaccine by now. However, a group of carers in this country are being denied the vaccine due to indirect discrimination caused by local rules. This needs to end.
You are fully aware of the extra burden placed on carers due to the pandemic; you have mentioned it more than a few times. This includes extra workload and less assistance, including stand-in cover.
If a carer were to leave a person who is severely disabled, they could face prosecution for abandonment. Not only that, but a severely disabled person who is in the shielding category is obviously at risk of death if infected with COVID 19. Many carers in this country are wholly reliant on public transport, unable to afford driving lessons or to own a vehicle of their own. A £20 taxi ride to a vaccine centre accounts for 1/3 of their weekly income. Public transport comes with the risk of infection; the risk of infection comes with the risk of death to the person they care for.
It is reasonable in the circumstances that a person who cares for another; and where that person is substantively disabled, and/or on the shielding list, the carer should be automatically entitled to home vaccination (as the person they care for would be).
However, local provisioning rules in a number of areas of Scotland are precluding carers from being able to get vaccinated because they cannot attend a vaccine centre due to distance, cost and the risk of possible infection, twice exasperated by the requirement for two injections, neither affording immediate protection and neither affording 100% protection.
These carers are being denied home vaccinations because they are not themselves, classified as being housebound.
In consideration of the fact that many of these carers were first into lockdown, and indeed have been continuously in lockdown because before they can re-join the world, another wave has hit, this is also a matter of mental health.
Health boards owe a duty of responsibility to carers, who have been shouldering increased workload due to Health and Social Care being overwhelmed. They owe the same duty to vaccinate unpaid carers as they do to their own staff.
The Scottish Government needs to act immediately and issue guidance that a refusal to vaccinate a carer at home who is unable to leave their domicile is discrimination resulting from association with a person with a protected characteristic. They should therefore be afforded the status of housebound by proxy and immediately given the right to request vaccination at home, just like the person they care for. Anything less is inappropriate. Boards have a duty to make reasonable adjustment for carers, and you have a duty to ensure that they do.
Lack of resources on this front is not an excuse, because these people should have been vaccinated at the same time as the persons they care for.