Detailed proposals to close England’s last long-stay learning disability hospital have been published, as part of a wider consultation about redesigning services for people with learning disability and autism spectrum disorders in the North West.
The Lancashire hospital, previously run by the former Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as a 223-bed standalone service and currently operated by Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, is now known as the Whalley site.
It was taken over and identified for closure as part of national plans announced last year to reduce learning disability hospital beds by half and to move patients into the community over three years.
The plans followed criticisms that improvements to services had been too slow since the care scandal at Winterbourne View, which was exposed in a BBC TV documentary in 2011.
NHS England said the North West region had an over-dependence on institutional hospital care for people with a learning disability or autism, compared with other areas of the country, largely due to the historic lack of alternatives in the community.
In the proposals for the region published yesterday, NHS England stated that the preferred option was to close the Mersey Care Whalley site, while providing a smaller number of “low secure” beds in the region supported by specialist teams.
Meanwhile, patients who were currently receiving “medium secure” care at other sites previously run by the Calderstones Partnership would move to a new integrated service being developed by Mersey Care at Maghull.
This would provide improved integration into local communities, greater proximity to local services and easier access to public transport systems, said NHS England.
“These proposals represent a shared vision on how we can deliver integrated, modern and excellent services”
Alternatively, NHS England said the Mersey Care Whalley site could remain open, but with a smaller number of beds offering “low secure” care. But it said this plan was not favoured, because it would involve continuing services within an institutionalised setting that was geographically isolated.
Lesley Patel, NHS England’s regional director of nursing for specialised services in the North, said: “People in the North West who have a learning disability or autism deserve services which empower them to lead more independent lives, in the communities they know and feel part of, and have greater say about the support they receive to do that.
“These proposals represent a shared vision on how we can deliver integrated, modern and excellent services for those with the most complex needs over the next three years,” she said.
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Chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings, who is leading initiatives nationally to redesign services for people with learning disability, added: “These proposals put the North West region at the forefront of key changes that are being implemented across the country.
“Improving care for this group of people is a national priority and these proposals represent a major step forward in securing real improvements to people’s lives,” she said.
The 12-week consultation on the plans closes on 23 February.