Ministers are giving qualified support to a report on Wednesday calling for £30m of bank fines to be used to kickstart a drive to close hospital units such as the one at the centre of the Winterbourne View scandal and move 2,600 people with learning disabilities or autism into alternative accommodation in the community.
The report from a review team set up by NHS England calls also for a new charter of rights for people with learning disabilities or autism, including a new right to challenge decisions about where they are sent to live.
Disability charities and campaigners welcomed the team’s broad conclusions but warned that the plans would repeat the failure of a previous transfer programme unless they were backed by funding and a clear timetable for action.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of the charity Mencap and a member of the team, said NHS England and ministers needed to explain how they would implement the plans. “People with learning disability and their families have been repeatedly let down by the failure to achieve the change we all want to see,” she said.
The report comes 48 hours after an inquest found that a 25-year-old woman, Stephanie Bincliffe, had died in a Winterbourne View-style assessment and treatment (A&T) unit in East Yorkshire after staff allowed her weight to balloon to 25 stone (nearly 160kg). She had been in the unit for seven years, for much of the time in isolation in a padded room.
The Winterbourne View scandal broke in 2011 when secret filming exposed abuse of patients at the private unit near Bristol, where the NHS and councils were paying £3,500 a week for places for people whose behaviour was considered challenging. Eleven staff were convicted of assault and the unit was closed.
It subsequently emerged that some 2,600 people were living in similar units in England, even though care of people with learning disability or autism had supposedly moved to a community model and all NHS long-stay hospitals had been shut.
A first initiative to find alternative accommodation by June this year for all of the 2,600 deemed able to live in the community ended in what Norman Lamb, care and support minister, admitted was “abject failure”. Latest figures show that more people are being sent to A&T units than are being transferred from them.
The new plans, drawn up by a team led by Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of charity leaders’ organisation Acevo, envisage raising a £200m social investment fund to put in place new services, primed by £30m of government money potentially from Libor or other fines paid by banks for fixing interest rates .
The proposed charter of rights would at the same time empower people to challenge the system. Bubb said: “We need that system to have the courage to act on these recommendations and not to promise another false dawn. The time for talk is over.”
Although the team’s report says it is “crystal clear that there must be closures” of A&T units, both private and NHS, and suggests the team reconvene in a year to reflect on progress, it includes no draft timescale or targets for achieving change.
Lamb said he would be consulting on legal change to speed up the change programme. “I welcome the thrust of Sir Stephen Bubb’s report,” he added.
Gary Bourlet, who has a learning disability and is co-development lead of disability group People First England, said: “We need someone to take charge of making change happen. And that person should be working alongside someone with a learning disability. We call that co-working. And we need a timetable as well.”
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