Select Committee on Health Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Mr Tom Howe (H10)


  24 June 1994, and suddenly my life changed. Previously it consisted of a responsible career, good marriage and enjoyable life-style. Now I had been run down by a taxi in London having to respond to a doctor's kiss-of-life.

  I was taken to St Thomas' then to the National Hospital which specialises in brain injury and then back to St Thomas' beginning a three week coma. Numerous tests and brain scans showed I had three fractures in my skull. When I emerged from this coma I could neither speak nor remember anything including the two daughters I adored.


  An arm and a leg did not function and I was pushed around in a wheelchair by friends. As my limbs recovered I kept trying to escape and a nurse was left to guard the door. Eventually I discharged myself.


  As I improved I should have been sent to a more local hospital for full recuperation but this never happened. Instead I went home leading to immense stress between me, my wife and two children, one of whom was taking her "A" Level examinations. They all found my brain injury very hard to cope with but who was there to help them? I had made good physical recovery but very little mentally. I began to walk short distances and, during this time pushed myself to try to think and remember. My wife had been advised to contact Headway.


  I reluctantly started at Headway in December 1994. However, it gradually became a lifeline for me and my confidence started to grow. I was given the task of leading the Monday group, therefore having to think and plan in preparation thus improving my own logic.


  In August 1995, we went on holiday to Portugal and one morning I had a fit leading to a 12 month ban on driving. The licence came back on 13 August 1996, and I was yearning to drive with a new zest for life.


  That zest was killed in September 1997 when I was asked to take an All Work Test. The result of this cancelled my long-term Incapacity Benefit on 28 November 1997. Headway advised me to go to the Job Centre who paid me approximately £48 weekly. This was cancelled after six months because my wife and I had our own savings. The cancellation of Incapacity Benefit led to numerous meetings/correspondence with Alan Hurst, MP for Braintree and a string of cross-office letters between various departments in the House of Commons.

  With Headway's support I attended several sessions with a Neuro-Psychologist, had Speech and Language Therapy and even tried an appeal. This was hardly the sort of experience you would expect a person who had suffered severe head injury to endure. For much of the time I was close to breaking down.


  An Independent Tribunal Service felt sorry for me but the two channels which exist in the All Work Test cover those with physical problems and those with mental problems, no area for severe head injury, so they upheld the original decision.


  Headway's relentless efforts were then rewarded. In the Disability Rights Handbook it said—"You are exempt from the All Work Test if you satisfy any one of these conditions:-multiple effects of impairment of function of the brain or nervous system causing severe and irreversible motor, sensory and intellectual deficits eg from severe stroke, brain tumour, head injury". So I, and many others like me at Headway, was exempt from the test. Suddenly Social Security having been informed of something they should already have known renewed the Incapacity Benefit from 2 September 1998.


  I had been given a three year driving licence on 13 August 1996 and wrote to DVLA in July 1999 confidently stating that I had suffered no fits, had no problems and would presumably have my licence automatically renewed. A letter dated 19 October 1999 from a certain DVLA doctor arrived banning me from driving because of "a history of alcohol misuse within the past 12 months". Unfortunately individuals like me are not allowed to speak to people in this hierarchical position and I had to get my own doctor to do so.

  Forget the fact that I had never in my life had one drink and driven. Forget the fact that I had conducted my own breathalyser test the morning after drinking red wine, showing no adverse effects. Forget the fact that despite six weeks of not drinking anything containing alcohol my Gamma rating initially dropped then increased in the sixth week. Could it be something to do with taking Epilim and Prozac daily because of the original head injury. The DVLA attitude was so demeaning that I felt massively insecure and that my brain was back in the derogatory mode it had been five years earlier. Finally I got my licence back for one year only.


  Three years ago with my wife's consent I moved away from my home to preserve our marriage. With my father and a good friends help I am now making incredible progress. I no longer attend Headway, but we stay very close.

January 2001

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