Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Apology to coma woman's family
The Minister for Disabled People today issued an "unreserved apology" to the family of a woman invited to "intensive job-focused activity" despite having been in a coma for the past two months.
Speaking during a backbench business debate in the Commons, Mike Penning said things had clearly "gone wrong" in the case of Sheila Holt.
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk raised the case during the debate, on the effects of welfare reform on sick and disabled people.
Mr Penning said: "I apologise, unreservedly, to the family as the minister responsible.
"It's about time politicians did stand up and apologise when things went wrong. It clearly has gone wrong and the family have every right to be aggrieved and I hope she makes a full recovery, as much as she can."
During his speech, Mr Danczuk read a letter out: "It said, 'Dear Ms Holt, you are now approaching the end of the first stage of your intensive job focused activity. We hope that all the activity or training intervention completed so far has not only supported you to achieve your aspirations but has moved you closer to the job market.
"'You will shortly enter the second stage of your intensive job-focused activity. Sessions and workshops may vary depending on the centre you attend'.
"This letter was sent to my constituent Sheila Holt on January 30. I'm sad to inform the House that Sheila will not be attending the second stage of her intensive job-focused activity because she has been in a coma since December.
"I should inform the House that members of Sheila's family repeatedly informed the DWP and Seetec (a contractor carrying out work capability assessments) about this fact that she wasn't well but they continued to get harassed by those organisations.
"Just to recap briefly, Sheila has suffered from severe bipolar since childhood and regularly has traumatic experiences. She has not been in employment since she was 16 years old. However she was pushed into the Work Programme before Christmas and she was finding it extremely difficult.
"She was also concerned about the fact around the increases in the council tax benefit that she had to pay.
"On December 17 she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act because she was struggling to cope.
"Whilst in hospital she had a heart attack and that's caused her to be in a coma since then.
"We are now at the end of February. I can report to the House that Sheila is stable, she is still in the coma."
He added: "Let's make this important point - before the election when the Prime Minister toured the TV studios he often talked about broken Britain. Well I have to say that if this is the Prime Minister's idea of fixing broken Britain, hounding disabled people who suffer from mental breakdowns, harassing their distressed relatives, then I prefer the broken Britain that existed before."