An extremely vulnerable woman with debilitating medical conditions, including epilepsy and severe arthritis, almost starved to death after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stopped her disability benefits, it has been reported.
Alice (not her real name) became so unwell that she developed a life-threatening disease that is usually only seen in the worlds poorest countries; suffering with a health condition more associated with war zones, famine, and concentration camps – Refeeding Syndrome.
Wikipedia describes the disease as a “syndrome consisting of metabolic disturbances that occur as a result of reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved, severely malnourished or metabolically stressed due to severe illness.”
It continues: “When too much food and/or liquid nutrition supplement is consumed during the initial four to seven days of refeeding, this triggers synthesis of glycogen, fat and protein in cells, to the detriment of serum concentrations of potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Cardiac, pulmonary and neurological symptoms can be signs of refeeding syndrome. The low serum minerals, if severe enough, can be fatal.”
Rob McDowall from the charity Welfare Scotland, who visited Alice, wrote on Twitter: “I visited Alice at home who had collapsed. I visited her and met her social worker and her partner who were concerned.
“Alice didn’t want to go to hospital but we had to call an ambulance as her heart rate was erratic, she couldn’t keep her eyes open & was clammy.
“She was confused and shouting for her mum who had passed away over 20 years ago. Ambulance staff said her heart was showing signs of stress. Rushed to hospital [Alice] was seen by emergency doctors and diagnosed as suffering from Refeeding Syndrome.
“I had taken [Alice] to get emergency food from the food bank a couple of days ago. I didn’t know Alice had been in a state of practical starvation for months and was existing on very little food.
“When Alice went home and had her first meal… her body was fragile and couldn’t cope… She ate most of a packet of cookies I had given her as she was so happy to have a choice and have food there.
“Her body, used to starving, couldn’t cope and it unleashed mayhem.”
Welfare Scotland had helped Alice in her claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is replacing Disability Living Allowance as part of the UK Government’s widespread reforms of the welfare system.
The charity had provided the DWP with a doctor’s letter and sixteen pages of additional evidence to support her claim, but this didn’t stop the DWP from stopping her disability benefit and ending her £181 per week Severe Disability element of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which she was entirely reliant upon to make ends meet and feed herself.
In total, Alice was left £215 a week worse off, which reportedly left her feeling “suicidal” and unable to afford to feed herself.
McDowall told The Canary, an independent and highly respected online news publisher, that Alice was forced to “seriously cut her food intake” after her benefits were stopped.
“Alice was having cereal for breakfast and dinner and then couldn’t afford even the cereal twice a day. She has been feeling suicidal since March. She’s always been slight but she has lost four stone since Christmas”, he said.
Alice was rushed to hospital where she was diagnosed with Refeeding Syndrome, not long before her entire body would have shut down from the impact of starvation.
Despite this, Alice told McDowall that she was “sorry for causing all this trouble”.
“I’ve explained it isn’t her fault”, said McDowall. “She said she was terrified she was dying. But she also ‘felt like it would solve a lot of problems.”
To date, we don’t know if Alice has appealed the DWP’s decision to stop her benefits, or whether her health has improved.
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