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Learning disabled not being discharged into the community

In spite of the Winterbourne View scandal too many patients still face hospital rather than community treatment

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

More people with learning disabilities are being placed in hospital "assessment and treatment (A&T) units" than are being moved out into the community in spite of government promises to run down the use of such units following the scandal of Winterbourne View where patients were abused and mistreated.

Latest official figures released by NHS England show that in the three months to the end of June, 358 people were admitted to A&T units in England, while only 261 were discharged. While the number of people given a date for transfer did double over the three-month period to 577, in almost four in 10 of these cases, the local councils concerned did not know that the individuals would be returning to their home communities. In 50% of all 2,600 cases – which include 147 children – councils had no idea that they would need to help make provision for people returning from A&T units.

In 2011, secret filming by BBC's Panorama showed people with learning disabilities being ridiculed and abused at Winterbourne View, a private A&T unit near Bristol, which charged fees averaging £3,500 a week. Eleven staff were later convicted of offences, six of whom received jail terms.

A subsequent review of use of such units for people with behaviour considered challenging concluded that they should instead be given "personalised care and support in appropriate community settings". Ministers promised prompt action to ensure patients were moved into the community. The transfer programme was supposed to have either moved some 2,600 people out of the units by 1 June or given them a firm date for doing so. But progress has been slow and Bill Mumford, chief executive of charity MacIntyre who had been seconded to lead the programme, quit the role last month. Now NHS England has asked Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of charity leaders' association Acevo, to lead a new initiative to help make progress with the transfers.

Care and support minister Norman Lamb has admitted that the programme has been an "abject failure". Lamb said: "Everyone deserves to get the right care in the right place. It is absolutely unacceptable for people with learning disabilities to be left in institutions if they can live in their own community."

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