If you go into hospital for a consultation or a longer stay, there are some things you may need to consider before, during and after.
Things to consider include:
- telling the hospital of the nature of your disability
- what extra support you need because of your disability
- what happens to any benefits or financial support you normally get
When you enter hospital an 'admission form' will be completed by you and hospital staff. This is a standard procedure. Sometimes you will be able to complete this form before going to hospital.
The form records any needs which you may want the hospital to be aware of. It's intended to give hospital staff an idea of how much help you may require during your time there.
If your local doctor refers you for treatment in hospital, they should discuss any specific needs you may have with hospital staff, for example, medication. If you are normally cared for at home, you may like to include that person when you talk to hospital staff.
If you have a learning disability, you can bring a copy of your Hospital Passport with you. The passport gives hospital staff important information about you and how you prefer to communicate, your medical history and any support you might need while in hospital.
If you don't bring one, hospital staff will give you a blank copy to complete yourself or with help from your carer or someone who knows you well.
Appointments and consultations
Some arrangements may be particularly important to sort out before going to hospital for a consultation or a longer stay. For example, if you are deaf or have a hearing impairment, arrangements can be made for a sign language interpreter to be available for a certain period. Some organisations that support people with specific disabilities give advice on staying in hospital.
Your needs in hospital
You can discuss any requirements you have with hospital staff before, or on, admission to hospital. This could include:
- any routines that you have
- specialist equipment that the hospital may not be able to provide
- being able to have someone present at certain times, for example, a carer
- easy access to facilities, for example, bathrooms and toilets
- being able to enjoy TV or radio, for example, using a fixed loop or subtitles
Benefits and financial support
If you are going in to hospital you should immediately tell the Department for Communities and, if necessary, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive office that deals with your claims for Housing Benefit. This is important as in most cases any benefit entitlement will have to be reassessed to take account of your new circumstances.
If you were not claiming any form of benefit before entering hospital you may be entitled to claim.
- See 'Hospital stays and your benefits' section below
As with going into hospital, the arrangements to leave hospital, the 'discharge plan', should follow a standard procedure.
Every hospital should have its own policy and arrangements for discharging patients. This is especially important if you need ongoing care. The care you may need could be extra, or different, to support you have received in the past.
A named nurse, or ward-based care co-ordinator, will be responsible for you leaving hospital. The hospital should also arrange transport for you if necessary. The hospital should get in touch with your local doctor to tell them of your status, or that of your child.
If you have received a recent disability, or have given birth to a child with disabilities, the hospital will automatically tell local social services so that support can be put in place.
You should be given information about the disability and about possible relevant organisations and support groups, as well as information about entitlement to any benefits, and how to get support and equipment.
If you are a carer of someone who is leaving hospital, you can expect to be involved in the discharge process. A special guide for carers has been produced to provide information about the discharge process.
Other things to think about when leaving hospital
Other things to think about when leaving hospital include:
- letting your local doctor know, especially if there are changes in the nature of your disability or if you disability is new
- finding out about financial support you may be entitled to
- Guide to financial support for people with disabilities
Having an assessment before you leave hospital
If you need ongoing health and social support after leaving hospital, a team (which may include a consultant, doctors, nurses and local social services) will carry out an assessment. This is called a multi-disciplinary assessment.
Each local trust sets its own 'eligibility criteria' for access care which will then affect the type and level of support you receive. Services provided by a local trust may incur a charge.
You should be fully involved in the assessment process. You should also be informed about the complaints procedure in case you are not happy with the outcome of the assessment.
Most teams will have a social worker who will make sure social services know about any extra support you will need at home. Other specialists may also be part of the team, such as occupational therapists.
If you were receiving services before entering hospital, the existing services may simply need reinstating when you leave hospital. You should not be discharged from hospital before the services you need have been arranged.
Support after leaving hospital
The local trusts work together to meet your needs if you have continuing health and social care needs when you leave hospital.
Following the assessment there are a number of possible care options including:
- support at home with a care package of health and social care
- sheltered housing
- a residential care or nursing home
- admission for Health Service continuing (long-term) care
- care in a rehabilitation centre
If you have a carer and need extra help when you return home, with your permission, they can be given information about your care needs.
Health Service continuing (long-term) care
Continuing care can include both health and social care. Fully-funded Health Service 'continuing care' is a package of care arranged and funded by the Health Service. To access this care you must meet the eligibility criteria set by your Trust. If staff think you are eligible they will apply on your behalf.
'Continuing health and social care' is a package of care that involves services from both the Health Service and social care.
If you meet your strategic health authority's criteria for Health Service continuing care, the Health Service will pay for all of your care needs. This might be in a care home or sometimes in your own home.
When your local trust assesses you for discharge from hospital, your discharge team should arrange for assessments to identify your needs and make referrals for you.
- See 'Health and social care assessments' section below
There are a number of day centres throughout Northern Ireland which have the facilities to help rehabilitate people with impairments as a result of injury or illness.
Types of support include:
- speech therapy
- occupational therapy
Referral to a day centre can come from your hospital consultant or your local doctor (GP).
Hospital stays and your benefits
Going into hospital may affect any benefits you receive, including Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. If someone receives Carer's Allowance because they are caring for you, this may also be affected if you go into hospital.
Disability Living Allowance
If you go into hospital, nothing will usually happen to your Disability Living Allowance (DLA) straight away.
If DLA is paid for someone aged 16 or over, it will usually stop after the person has been in hospital for four weeks. If DLA is paid for a child under 16, it will usually stop after the child has been in hospital for 12 weeks.
Attendance Allowance will usually stop after you have been in hospital for four weeks.
Employment and Support Allowance
If you are admitted to hospital your Employment and Support Allowance may be affected after a period of four weeks if you receive additional premiums on your award. If you claim as part of a couple, further changes may occur after a period of 52 weeks in hospital.
Incapacity Benefit will usually stop after you have been in hospital for 52 weeks.
If someone receives Carer's Allowance because they are caring for you, this can continue for up to 12 weeks if you - or they - go into hospital. However, their Carer's Allowance will stop if your Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance stops. This is normally after you have been in hospital for four weeks.
Carers must tell Disability and Carers Service if they, or the person they care for, go into or come out of hospital.
If you are admitted to hospital your Universal Credit payments may be affected after a period of six months.
You must report changes by signing in to your Universal Credit online account. You can report a change of circumstance by going to your Universal Credit home page.
Reporting hospital stays
You must tell the relevant Jobs and Beenfits office at the Department for Communities as soon as you go into or come out of hospital. You must also tell them if someone you get benefit for goes into or comes out of hospital.
Contacting other people with disabilities and disability organisations
Keeping in touch with other people who have disabilities can be a good way of getting informal advice and support. You can get to know other people with disabilities through local support groups, disability organisations and charities, or online disability forums.
At a local level
Your local council website may list local organisations and groups offering support to people with disabilities. You can find your local council website from the link below. Other places you may find out about local disability groups include:
- noticeboards at your local library or community centre
- through your doctor's surgery
- through your local hospital
- Local councils in Northern Ireland
Charities and other organisations for people with specific needs
Getting involved with a charity or other organisation that supports people with your specific disability or medical condition can be a good way of meeting people and getting advice.
Some national organisations have a network of local offices that offer support services and organise social activities for members. Some charities for specific disabilities have online discussion forums where you can chat with other people with the same disability.
Many also produce magazines and other publications you can subscribe to. Some organisations have a helpline you can call or access by textphone for specialist advice about your disability. This could be especially useful if you are newly disabled or concerned about how your disability may affect important decisions - like starting a family or returning to work.
You can find out the details of several organisations from nidirect's contact section, as follows.
Organisations for people who are blind or visually impaired
- British Computer Association of the Blind
- British Council for Prevention of Blindness
- Guide Dogs for the Blind Association
- International Glaucoma Association
- RNIB National Library Service
- Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
Organisations for people who are deaf or hearing impaired
- Action on Hearing Loss
- British Deaf Association
- Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
- National Association of Deafened People
- National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS)
Organisations for people with mental health difficulties
Organisations for people with communication difficulties
- Afasic Northern Ireland (Unlocking Speech and Language)
- British Stammering Association
- National Autistic Society
Organisations for people with education and training difficulties
Organisations for people with physical disabilities
- Arthritis Care
- Shine (formerly the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus ASBAH)
- Go Kids Go
- Motor Neurone Disease Association
- Multiple Sclerosis Society Northern Ireland
- Muscular Dystrophy Campaign
- Spinal Injuries Association (SIA)
- Stroke Association Northern Ireland
Organisations working with all people with disabilities
Online disability forums and messageboards
Some organisations run internet discussion boards, forums and chatrooms specifically for people with disabilities. Examples include:
Ouch! (the BBC's disability website), has messageboards for general chat, advice on disability issues, and questions and answers.
Youreable is a community-based website for people with disabilities hosting a range of discussion forums on topics including benefits, motoring, health, relationships and equipment.