Jo Whiley has shared that her sister Frances, who has learning disabilities and diabetes, is out of hospital after being admitted with Covid-19 following an outbreak in her care home.
Last week, the BBC Radio 2 DJ, 55, spoke of the “nightmare” of being offered the vaccine before her 53-year-old sister, who has the rare Cri du Chat genetic syndrome. Frances later tested positive for coronavirus following an outbreak in her Northampton care home and was admitted to hospital.
Frances received an invitation for the vaccine on Saturday, but by then Whiley feared it may have come too late as Frances was “fighting for life” in hospital. “It couldn’t be crueller,” she said as she described how terrifying the whole ordeal had been for her sister.
On Tuesday, she tweeted a video of her sister putting her thumbs up and clapping alongside an update on the situation: “It’s hard to believe we’ve gone from discussing palliative care on Friday night to sitting on her favourite bench drinking cups of tea.”
She added: “Covid has brought with it further complications. We’re now dealing with worrying diabetes and high blood pressure issues, and my parents are exhausted beyond belief. It’s so hard observing from behind a visor and mask; helpless doesn’t cover it.”
Alongside a video of Frances giving a thumbs-up and a round of applause, Whiley said her sister “would like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has helped her, especially the amazing doctors and nurses of the NHS, and her many MANY well-wishers”.
She also renewed her call for people with learning disabilities to be prioritised in the vaccine rollout. “Not everyone has been as lucky as us,” she said. “So many have died or are suffering from long Covid because they were simply not protected. We need to show them that they are not forgotten and we care.”
A Public Health England study found the death rate from Covid-19 among people with learning disabilities was up to six times higher than the general population during the first wave of the pandemic, and the death rate for people aged 18 to 34 with learning disabilities was 30 times higher than the rate in the same age group without disabilities.
On Sunday, Whiley told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show she had had the “worst week” of her life following Frances’s diagnosis. Only 24 hours before, medics had been discussing palliative care for her, though “she rallied round” and her oxygen levels were beginning to rise, Whiley said.
She stressed that people with learning disabilities have complex needs and it is difficult to predict how they will respond to treatment. “Quite often they can’t communicate, they’re terrified, they don’t know what’s going on, they have no comprehension of what Covid is and what’s happening to them.”
Frances had been so petrified, she could not tolerate being given an oxygen mask and her condition deteriorated as a result, she added.
Whiley said she hoped speaking out about her sister’s experience would highlight the need to get people with learning disabilities vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Forget the classifications, forget the cohorts, just protect these people. They are so precious, they’re so vulnerable and they have no way of fighting for themselves, we have to fight for them. Get them and their carers vaccinated, stop them dying.”