I was genuinely saddened by the death of Ivan Cameron. The death of any child is a tragedy – no less so when they have profound disabilities. It’s clear from media coverage that Ivan was a much-loved child who had the very best care available. It’s also clear that he had informed, hands-on parents who worked phenomenally hard to ensure he had the best quality of life that was achievable.
For several years, Ivan Cameron attended the Cheyne Day Centre five days a week. I used to know the Cheyne Centre well a few years ago – I worked sometimes with Cheyne staff, and visited the Centre regularly. Cheyne was an absolute centre of excellence. It offered superb integrated care and intensive support for children with the most severe disabilities. Classroom and therapy staff worked together extraordinarily well, and the expertise and commitment of all staff were impressive. I have never seen care of this standard offered anywhere else.
The Cheyne Day Centre has gone now. It was closed down in 2007, essentially for financial reasons. Places like Cheyne cost a great deal of money to run. Over the last few years of its existence, it was increasingly clear that Cheyne was in trouble. Local authorities across London refused to pay for children to attend, hiding behind the pretence that mainstream schools or other special schools could offer the same provision. This was, of course, not true. The Primary Care Trust with overall responsibility for Cheyne waited until Ivan Cameron left before announcing the decision to close the centre. One might speculate that this was for political reasons. Just think of the adverse publicity that might have ensued otherwise.
In 2004, when Cheyne was initially under threat, the local Overview and Scrutiny Committee held its own hearing into the proposal. The report is here – and it still makes moving reading.
David Cameron, then a prospective Cheyne parent, is reported to have reported the closure of the Centre as ‘a matter of life or death’ for his child.
A staff member commented that ‘Cheyne was a small, nurturing, calm, quiet environment where intensive and early intervention work could be undertaken, offering these severely disadvantaged children a chance to make sense of their world’.
The parent of a child at Cheyne said that the ‘Cheyne Day Centre offered a unique quality service, a model of excellence in the treatment of these kinds of severely disabled children. These children and their families had for too long been hidden and beaten down, but it was important that their needs were not ignored’.
Children like Ivan Cameron, with these profound disabilities, very often have short lives. There are choices to be made here. We can offer these children basic medical care and education that doesn’t meet their needs, and wait for them to die. Alternatively we can understand that they are human beings with real intrinsic worth, and we can value them and nurture them for who they are. I know which of these I want to see.
Public services are under attack. The overall direction of travel in the NHS is for cheap (and not very cheerful) care. ‘Inclusion’ in mainstream education can be an excuse for not spending the money on highly specialist provision. The death of Ivan Cameron is a tragedy. The loss of the superb specialist services that Ivan accessed is an ongoing tragedy for other disabled children.