Published On: Wed, May 5th, 2021

Jo Whiley recalls her anger after disabled sister Frances, 53, couldn’t get a Covid vaccine

Jo Whiley has revealed her frustration at the fact her sister Frances was not able to get her COVID-19 jab when the vaccination programme began, despite being eligible.

Frances, 53, has Cri Du Chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in delayed development.

Due to her condition, Frances resides in a care home, with citizens of these establishments being some of the first adults to become eligible for a vaccination when the programme was first rolled out in the UK last December.

Although Frances has since had the vaccine in March, it came after she was left ‘fighting for her life’ following an outbreak at her care home.

Frustration: Jo Whiley has revealed her frustration at the fact that her sister Frances was not able to get her COVID-19 jab when the vaccination programme began despite being eligible

Radio 2 presenter Jo, 55, has explained the ‘rage’ she felt when she found out that her sister’s local GP would not be able to give her a dose as she was ‘not in the right tier’.

Speaking to Good Housekeeping magazine, she explained: ‘I remember watching breakfast TV and they were saying: “Everyone in care homes is being vaccinated”.

‘I thought, “Hang on, Frances is in a care home – no they’re not”. When I contacted her GP, they just said, “She’s not in the right tier; we can’t do anything”.

Rare condition: Frances, 53, has Cri Du Chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in delayed development. Due to her condition, Frances resides in a care home, with citizens of these establishments being some of the first adults to become eligible for a vaccination when the programme was first rolled out in the UK last December

Rare condition: Frances, 53, has Cri Du Chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in delayed development. Due to her condition, Frances resides in a care home, with citizens of these establishments being some of the first adults to become eligible for a vaccination when the programme was first rolled out in the UK last December

'Rage': However Radio 2 presenter Jo, 55, has explained the 'rage' she felt when she found out that her sister's local GP would not be able to give her a dose as she was 'not in the right tier'

‘Rage’: However Radio 2 presenter Jo, 55, has explained the ‘rage’ she felt when she found out that her sister’s local GP would not be able to give her a dose as she was ‘not in the right tier’

‘I felt utterly powerless and angry, too. As the nightmare unfolded and Frances became ill, I had this rage inside me. I realised how people with disabilities had been neglected, because they don’t have a voice.’

Jo also opened up her relationship with husband Steve Morton – who she has been married to since 1991 – and how despite their different personalities, they have been able to work together as a ‘good team’.

She continued: ‘Because we’re so different, I’m quiet and calm and Steve’s loud and vivacious. I also now appreciate what a good team we are.

‘When we were going through these horrific decisions with Frances, he was there, asking the right questions and helping my parents. I saw a strength in him that I’d never seen before.’

Happy couple: Jo also opened up her relationship with husband Steve Morton - who she has been married to since 1991 - and how despite their different personalities, they have been able to work together as a 'good team' (pictured in 2010)

Happy couple: Jo also opened up her relationship with husband Steve Morton – who she has been married to since 1991 – and how despite their different personalities, they have been able to work together as a ‘good team’ (pictured in 2010)

Good news: In March, the star revealed her relief at the fact that Frances would finally be able to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a month after she battled the illness

Good news: In March, the star revealed her relief at the fact that Frances would finally be able to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a month after she battled the illness

In March, the star revealed her relief at the fact that Frances would finally be able to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a month after she battled the illness.

Frances was left seriously ill in February after an outbreak at her care home, with her family even discussing ‘end of life’ care.

Speaking on her radio show at the time, Jo said: ‘My sister gets her vaccination this coming weekend. It has been a long time coming.

‘You have to wait a month after you have had Covid but it finally comes this weekend so we could not be happier about that as well.’

Illness: Frances was left seriously ill in February after an outbreak at her care home, with her family even discussing 'end of life' care

Illness: Frances was left seriously ill in February after an outbreak at her care home, with her family even discussing ‘end of life’ care

In February, Jo revealed her heartbreak that she was offered the vaccine while her sister was desperately ill in hospital with the virus.

She said: ‘I would give up my vaccine in a heartbeat, if I could, for my sister and any of the residents in her house to have their vaccine… it does not feel right.

‘She’s fighting for her life in hospital. It couldn’t be crueller.’

'A long time coming': Speaking on her radio show at the time, Jo said: 'My sister gets her vaccination this coming weekend. It has been a long time coming. 'You have to wait a month after you have had Covid but it finally comes this weekend so we could not be happier about that as well.'

‘A long time coming’: Speaking on her radio show at the time, Jo said: ‘My sister gets her vaccination this coming weekend. It has been a long time coming. ‘You have to wait a month after you have had Covid but it finally comes this weekend so we could not be happier about that as well.’

Jo also claimed Frances ‘refused to talk to [her]’ or her family when she was offered the Covid-19 vaccine first.

Making an appearance on This Morning, the BBC Radio DJ said her sibling’s reaction was ‘the cruellest twist’ and detailed how the situation was like ‘the worst disastrous movie’.

She explained to Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield: ‘It played out like the worst disastrous movie. I got offered my vaccine, which felt like the cruellest twist, she refused to take our calls.

Vaccination: In February, Jo revealed her heartbreak that she was offered the vaccine while her sister was desperately ill in hospital with the virus

Vaccination: In February, Jo revealed her heartbreak that she was offered the vaccine while her sister was desperately ill in hospital with the virus

‘She refused to talk to me, she refused to talk to my mum and dad, we were calling the home and that showed the impact on her mental health.’

At the time she was offered the vaccine, ‘fit and healthy’ Jo said it was ‘mind boggling’ she was offered a jab before her younger sister Frances.

Adults with learning disabilities will now all be offered Covid vaccines as part of the top six priority groups, Britain’s health chiefs said in February after a campaign by Jo Whiley to get her sister jabbed.

The JCVI, which decides on who gets the life-saving jabs first, said people with learning disabilities of any kind should be bumped up the pecking order.

Sad: Jo also claimed Frances 'refused to talk to [her]' or her family when she was offered the Covid-19 vaccine first

Sad: Jo also claimed Frances ‘refused to talk to [her]’ or her family when she was offered the Covid-19 vaccine first

They will be added into priority group six, which includes all adults with a long-term health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness.

Jo called for people with learning disabilities to get vaccines sooner after her sister, who has a developmental disorder and lives in residential care, was hospitalised with Covid-19.

Of her sister’s battle with coronavirus, Jo went on: ‘We got the news that she had tested positive for Covid, all the people on the care home tested positive and many of the carers, so it was catastrophic.

'Mind boggling': At the time she was offered the vaccine, 'fit and healthy' Jo said it was 'mind boggling' she was offered a jab before her younger sister Frances

‘Mind boggling’: At the time she was offered the vaccine, ‘fit and healthy’ Jo said it was ‘mind boggling’ she was offered a jab before her younger sister Frances

‘It got very serious, this time last week, the next 24 hours we thought we were gonna lose her. I would say to everyone you need to get a oxymeter, that’s how we knew she was dangerously ill and we couldn’t get the mask on her. 

‘Because we couldn’t get the oxygen in her, and then we ended up 4am on Friday night, Saturday AM, discussing end of life care.

‘I woke up on Saturday just imagining this Christmas without my sister, and my mum saying ‘this is our worst nightmare come true’ and it was the thing in the last 12 months we had dreaded.’ 

Campaigning: Jo called for people with learning disabilities to get vaccines sooner after her sister, who has a developmental disorder and lives in residential care, was hospitalised with Covid-19

Campaigning: Jo called for people with learning disabilities to get vaccines sooner after her sister, who has a developmental disorder and lives in residential care, was hospitalised with Covid-19

Heaping praise on the NHS staff who helped take care of Frances, Jo gushed: ‘The staff have been incredible, and that proves how challenging it is for people with learning disabilities as they’re all so different.

‘And staff will try and do whatever they possible can. I Tweeted does anyone know what we can do, and they did put an oxygen tent around Francis, we couldn’t sedate her anymore because she reacted in the opposite way. 

‘You put so much sedatives in her body, they took the sedation away and we just watched, and she fought it on her own.’ 

Praise: Heaping praise on the NHS staff who helped take care of Frances, Jo gushed: 'The staff have been incredible, and that proves how challenging it is for people with learning disabilities as they're all so different.'

Praise: Heaping praise on the NHS staff who helped take care of Frances, Jo gushed: ‘The staff have been incredible, and that proves how challenging it is for people with learning disabilities as they’re all so different.’

She claimed NHS staff believed it was thanks to Frances having a loud voice that she was able to boost her oxygen levels, and she felt they had been ‘extremely lucky’ as one person in Frances’ care home sadly died from the virus.

Frances was moved into residential care in Northamptonshire in 2015 after her ‘challenging behaviour’ resulted in her needing specialist care.

She was released from hospital mid-February, with Jo taking to Twitter to give an update on her sister’s condition, while also thanking NHS staff for their efforts.  

Read the full interview with Jo Whiley in the June issue of Good Housekeeping on sale the 5 of May. It is available in all supermarkets and online at MagsDirect. 

What is Cri du Chat syndrome? 

Cri du Chat syndrome, also known as ‘5p minus’ syndrome, is a chromosomal condition that results when a piece of chromosome 5 is missing.

The name comes from the French term ‘cat cry’ or ‘call of the cat’.

This is because of one of its key identifying symptoms is a cat-like cry that those with the condition make as children.

Other symptoms include severe cognitive, speech and motor disabilities and behavioural problems such as hyperactivity, aggression, outbursts and repetitive movements.

There are also physical symptoms, with those who have the syndrome often having smaller heads and widely-spaced eyes (hypertelorism).

Diagnosis is primarily based on the distinctive ‘cat cry’ and accompanying physical problems

The syndrome, first discovered in 1963, affects around 1 in 50,000 live births and is slightly more common in women than men.

The condition is not treatable, though children can undergo speech and physical therapy to help with some of the symptoms.

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