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Thousands still 'stuck' on learning disability wards after Winterbourne

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Thousands of people with learning disabilities are still “stuck” in hospitals similar to the one investigated in the Winterbourne View care scandal and are at risk of abuse, families of victims and charities have warned the prime minister.

In an open letter to David Cameron, families said progress to shut units since the investigation into the scandal had been “painfully slow” and urged the government and the NHS to end “this outdated model of hospital care”.

“NHS England recently announced a three-year closure programme… But it means nothing until families see change on the ground”

Jan Tregelles and Vivien Cooper

They said that five years on since the BBC TV documentary which exposed the scandal – and that led to six care workers being put in prison and the hospital being closed – they wanted to write to “express our anger at the lack of change”.

“The rate of change has been painfully slow, and people with a learning disability and their families continue to suffer as a result,” said the letter, signed by family members Steve Sollars, Ann Earley, Wendy Fiander, Claire and Emma Garrod.

”Government and the NHS must end this outdated model of hospital care and tackle the inappropriate use of restraint, seclusion and anti-psychotic medication, which is devastating lives,” it added.

“Government and the NHS must end this outdated model of hospital care and tackle the inappropriate use of restraint, seclusion and anti-psychotic medication”

Letter by families of Winterbourne View victims

Official figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centres’ Learning Disability Census in 2015 showed that 3,000 patients were recorded as still being in these inpatient facilities, compared to 3,230 in 2014 and 3,250 in 2013.

In addition, for those patients in the 2015 census, around three quarters had received antipsychotic medication, yet only around 28% were recorded as having a psychotic disorder.

Meanwhile, 1,670 patients – 56% – had one or more incidents such as self-harm, accidents, physical assault, restraint or seclusion reported in the three months prior to the census. This compared to 55% the year before.

In addition, in 2015, 42% of patients under the age of 18 were 100km or more away from their home, compared to 27% in 2014 and 39% in 2013.

jan tregelles mencap

jan tregelles mencap

Jan Tregelles

During 2012 the government committed to a rapid reduction in the number of people in hospitals or large scale residential care - particularly those away from their home – by June 2014.

Since the government missed its target, in October 2015 NHS England announced national plans to close learning disability hospital beds by an average of 50% over the next three years and move patients into the community.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, supported the letter to the prime minister.

They said: “Five years on, despite all the promises, reports and action plans since Winterbourne View, the number of people with a learning disability in inpatient units has not changed.”

“NHS England recently announced a three-year closure programme. This means that the right community-based support should be being developed for people with a learning disability and behaviour that challenges. But it means nothing until families see change on the ground,” they added.

“It is vital there is action now for the people currently stuck in these units, and those who are being inappropriately medicated and restrained. There must be independent checking put in place to make sure that change is real and rapid,” they said.

“The real difference will be made over the coming months and years as local areas implement their response to the far-reaching plans”

NHS England

An NHS England spokesman said: “We have seen significant increases in the numbers of people both being discharged from hospital and having their care and treatment reviewed in the last year.

“We know, however, that progress up to now hasn’t been quick enough and we sympathise with the frustrations expressed,” he said.

“The real difference will be made over the coming months and years, as local areas implement their response to the far-reaching plans set out by NHS England and its national partners, ensuring that the housing, care and advocacy services become available in each community to provide the high-quality alternatives to hospital people and their families want and need,” he added.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Shame on every Commissioner that's funding these hellholes, shame on every psychiatrist who's sectioning people who don't need to be sectioned and shame on every nurse working in these places.
    AND shame on the uncaring government for massively underfunding community care.

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  • I would agree that we have had underfunding of community services for people with a learning disability for as long as the NHS has existed and that the vast majority of those are far better supported in the community. However, for the small number who need intensive (and compassionate along with the other 5 cs) care specialist NHS facilities can be a lifeline - I have seen exceptional acts of caring in the most trying circumstances (though I too despaired on watching the Winterbourne Panorama, I know that it was a failure in management as well as nursing, and was not an NHS facility even though funded) and am currently seeing talented colleagues transfer their skills to providing support in community intensive support under the Transforming Care agenda. Please don't paint all staff with that wide brush.

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