Roberta Wakeling has a rare condition
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Government officials are refusing to waive quarantine rules to allow a girl with a rare brain condition to get life saving treatment.
Roberta Wakeling, 11, and her family are stranded in Abu Dhabi in the UAE – which is currently on the travel red list.
She suffers from Pandas – short for Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections – which can trigger a range of mental health conditions.
It’s left her with a severe eating disorder called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, meaning she doesn’t eat for up to nine days at a time.
She can’t leave her bed and is too weak to lift her head. She weighs 3st 13lb – compared to the average of 5st 11lb for a girl of her age.
Roberta with dad Rob and brother Rupert
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Experts have told mum Nicola, 37, and dad Rob, 38, the condition could kill her and they should take Roberta home to the UK for specialist treatment immediately.
But officials insist the family must spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel first – and Roberta’s parents fear this could trigger a fatal mental health episode.
Nicola said: “Our family is in turmoil. It breaks my heart to see football fans coming into the country when we’ve been going through months of hell. The government should be ashamed.
“At one point, Roberta was suicidal and said, ‘I'll never eat and drink again’."
Roberta with mum Nicola
Nicola added: “She can only eat food from her own plate, prepared by her parents, and even then it’s just a tiny amount, like two party sausage rolls a day.
“She appears to meet all of the criteria for quarantine exemption but we’ve been told she can’t come into the country unless we spend 10 days in a hotel.
“I've sent them a huge list of reasons why she can't go into that facility. Her body has started to waste away. She can't hold her head up. She's got muscle loss and she's at risk of bedsores.
“In a hotel, we'll all be in a room where she'll be so triggered by everything, like the smell of the hotel food. This could be fatal.”
Nicola says the family is in turmoil
The family left the UK six years ago so Nicola and Rob, from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, could take teaching jobs in Abu Dhabi.
Roberta was struck down by scarlet fever in 2019, aged nine. Following the virus, she suffered extreme anxiety and refused to leave the house for nine months.
She appeared to recover but in January this year, she stopped eating and drinking completely.
Doctors have told her parents these episodes are sparked by brain flare ups and her symptoms are likely to get worse.
She was diagnosed with Pandas by a doctor in Dubai, who suggested her best hope of survival was inpatient care in the UK by a specialist team of doctors.
Nicola said: “We were told girls like Roberta drop dead all the time. She's really malnourished, with significant mineral deficiency. We were hysterical and so scared.”
Nicola and Rob, also parents to Rupert, eight, instantly began planning to return home.
But Nicola said: “We've cancelled our bank accounts, our visas and resigned our jobs.
“It's only a matter of time before we have to leave this country but we can’t.
“Even if we wanted to go into the hotel, they are overbooked and letting football fans in.
“I don't sleep at night. I lie on the floor on a mattress because we’ve sold most of our furniture. Roberta is deteriorating every day.”
In a letter to the family on June 22, the Department of Health and Social Care said: "Medical exemptions from managed quarantine are only available where a vulnerable person would not receive appropriate support in the designated managed quarantine hotel, as the result of a severe medical or health condition.
"Whilst acknowledging the difficulties related to Roberta's health, I regret that your circumstances would not meet the criteria for a medical exemption.
"We note that there are no medical appointments for Roberta to attend during the period of quarantine, and feel that with the support of both parents, Roberta can manage in hotel quarantine."
In a second letter on June 25, permission was again denied. The department said an approved provider would be "pleased to arrange suitable accommodation" and the family would have access to medical professionals onsite.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact these restrictions have had on many people. The quarantine measures we have in place are minimising the risk of variants coming into the UK and in turn, safeguarding the hard-won progress of our vaccination programme.
“All decisions for quarantine exemptions are considered on a case-by-case basis and when considering exemptions, we always balance the needs of the person applying with our top priority of ensuring the general public are as protected as possible.”