Disabled child forced to bathe in paddling pool during two year wait for Housing Executive home

Hannah Shortall with her parents, Brendan and Kelly pictured with the paddling pool she is forced to use as a bath. INLM17-201.
Hannah Shortall with her parents, Brendan and Kelly pictured with the paddling pool she is forced to use as a bath. INLM17-201.

A nine-year-old girl, who has a severe disability and been forced to bathe in a paddling pool in her family living room, has begged the NI Housing Executive to find her a suitable home.

As Hannah Shortall’s debilitating and life-limiting disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), is worsening and her mobility vastly deteriorating, it has become urgent that she is moved to a suitable home.

The St Anthony’s Primary School P5 pupil said all she wanted was a home with a proper bathroom she could use.

Her dad Brendan said it has become too dangerous to carry his daughter upstairs to the bathroom. He and his wife Kelly have been bathing her in a paddling pool in the family sitting room. It has also been turned into the child’s bedroom. Brendan said: “She has no dignity. She has to have help to go to the bathroom and it has become totally unsuitable for her needs.”

He explained that he had to give up a well-paid job as a lorry driver to help his Kelly care for Hannah as she has become too heavy for just one person.

Brendan explained that two years ago a house in Westacres was earmarked for the family by the Housing Executive and plans were drawn up to renovate the house so that Hannah would have a purpose build downstairs bedroom and wetroom.

He said: “That house is still empty two years later and no work has started. After a number of delays we were last told that work was due to start in April and there would be a chance to meet the builders. We went to the NIHE on the due date only to be told that the work was postponed again.

“We had contacted MLA John O’Dowd and Cllr Fergal Lennon but when I pointed out to the NIHE official they had written letters expressing the urgency of the move, the official said it didn’t matter as there was no Assembly.

Mr Shortall added that this week the NIHE said they had a temporary house in Lurgan but it needed work. He was perturbed that they were unable to say where the house was. He added that he couldn’t understand why they were spending money on a temporary house when the plans are ready at the first house.

“We have all our family support and that is something we badly need,” he said. “All the child wants is a home with a proper bathroom and facilities so she can have a decent quality of life. It’s not right that this wee girl should have to bathe in a paddling pool. She simply doesn’t have any dignity.

The NIHE has apologised to the Shortall family for ‘any delay’ in providing a long term solution to Hannah’s needs.

It said: “We understand the frustrations of the family and are making all efforts to ensure the immediate and long term needs of the family are met as soon as possible. We apologise for any delay but are committed to providing the proper long term solution to the family’s needs.

“When the family applied to us for social housing in January 2016, the NIHE arranged for a complex needs officer to work closely with them. We identified a permanent social home in November 2016 but it requires extensive renovations to meet the needs of their 9-year old daughter, and the family. We anticipate work will start on this family home in June of this year.

“In all cases like this, an occupational therapist (OT) identifies what is required in an adapted home to ensure it meets a family’s needs. A revised referral was submitted by the OT in this case at the end of August 2017, which included a large downstairs bedroom and bathroom. New plans were drawn and agreed by October 2017.

“It is at this stage that the Housing Executive can initiate its steps to progress the work. Planning approval was sought and received in December 2017. We need to comply with all necessary rules and regulations to allow us to appoint a contractor and get work started as soon as possible. This ensures that we get the best permanent solution for this family.

“Whilst this work is being undertaken, we have been looking for a suitable temporary home for the family and have approached other social housing providers and landlords in Craigavon and Lurgan. However, social housing bungalows with disabled access are limited across NI and this is also the case in Craigavon.

“There is the possibility of a two bedroom bungalow becoming available soon that we can offer to the family on a short-term basis whilst we continue to try to identify more suitable temporary accommodation. This bungalow requires significant repair work, which will take three to four weeks.

“We totally appreciate the inconvenience the family is experiencing and we will continue to work with them to resolve their housing needs.

“Political representatives contact us regularly to raise matters. Whilst we are happy to engage with representatives and others working on behalf of households, we deliver our services based on need and tailored to individual requirements.”

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd voiced deep disappointment at delays in dealing with a nine-year-old disabled girl’s housing needs.

Responding to claims a NIHE official dismissed letters from MLAs because there is no functioning Assembly as “ill-informed policy with no basis in fact.”

Mr O’Dowd said: “Sinn Féin have made numerous representations to the NIHE in support of Hannah. We are deeply disappointed to learn of further delays in Hannah receiving the standard of housing she needs.

“I will be meeting with Senior NIHE Management this week on a range of issues and I will be raising Hannah’s case once again seeking reassurances from management that no such policy of ignoring MLAs representations exists.”