Council delay blighting Horsham student’s university dream

JPCT 020612 Lucinda Ritchie left and her mother Christine. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 020612 Lucinda Ritchie left and her mother Christine. Photo by Derek Martin

A disabled student from Horsham says her dream to go to university is being hampered by delays of an assessment by West Sussex County Council.

However, after involvement of The County Times, 19-year-old Lucinda Ritchie is a step closer to fulfilling her ambition.

Lucinda, of Badgers Close, wants to study geography and business studies at Oxford Brookes University in September, but she needs round the clock care due to having Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS).

The condition means her joints are weak and she experiences at least two dislocations a day - some more severe than others. Her knee has been dislocated since April.

Lucinda, who sees an EDS specialist in London, has been assessed by WSCC in the past as having ‘critical and substantial needs’ but she needs further paperwork to help secure her care while studying.

The family first asked for it in May and part of the assessment was carried out, but despite persistent chasing, it has not been completed.

Lucinda said: “Despite having made numerous phone calls to WSCC Adult Services for a personal care assessment for University I cannot get any response despite having substantial and critical needs, I get sympathy but no action.

“I am now placed in the position where the student support for my academic studies is being put in place but I have no personal care package as that is down to the county council .

“My parents assist me at home but cannot at university.

“As much as I love my mum and dad, I want to be a student.”

Her mother Christine Ritchie said: “She got five offers. We looked at Sussex, but chose Oxford Brookes because the facilities were very good there for disabled people.

“They are keeping a room next to Lucinda’s for a carer, but it’s the assessment the university needs.”

However hours after this newspaper contacted WSCC on Monday, the family received a phone call that evening.

She said: “Gawain Evans at WSCC has completed the initial assessment and passed it to his manager today (Monday).

“The priority is only standard and may or may not be looked at this week. He has given Lucinda substantial needs but if his manager disagrees she may pass the assessment back, but there is no guarantee that it will be passed.”

She said if his manager disagrees there are few alternatives for Lucinda’s future.

“Private care would be £25 an hour and for the amount of time Lucinda needs, it’s not viable.

“We cannot move up to Oxfordshire because we have another daughter who’s autistic. She would lose her funding for her school place here.”

She added: “No guarantee was made that Lucinda will get any help. My take on this is that this initial assessment has been completed today due to your intervention but they are still not committing themselves.

“I informed Gawain that I will not be resting until a decision has been made as it is my daughter’s future.”

A WSCC spokesman said: “We are still in the process of completing Miss Ritchie’s assessment and as such no final decision has been made on her eligibility for support from West Sussex County Council.

“We do appreciate the concern that people may feel, but we are still in the process of gathering further information.

“However we can confirm that a social worker will contact the family to continue the social work assessment process.”