Delay in closing long-stay hospital leaves 93 residents unsure of future

People with learning difficulties have been left in limbo in one of the last remaining long-stay hospitals four months after it was due to close.

A source close to Orchard Hill hospital in Sutton, south London, has raised concerns over a “lack of momentum” in moving 93 people with severe and profound needs into the community.

Orchard Hill missed the government’s first deadline for closure of all long-stay hospitals in 2004 and a second in April this year.

“The trust has spectacularly failed to meet the deadlines and it’s scandalous that people have been left in limbo,” the source said.

“This goes against all government guidance.”

Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust, which runs the hospital, said funding problems had caused some of the delay. It said the NHS Bank, which offers grants and loans to NHS organisations, had refused to give additional financial support to assist the closure of Orchard Hill.

It estimates that it needs £15m to close Orchard Hill, but was only given just over £1m last year from South West London Strategic Health Authority. It is now exploring “alternative approaches”.

The trust said the closure had also been delayed by two legal challenges from parents against the initial decision in 2000 to close the hospital made by the then Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth Health Authority.

The parents argued that the decision was flawed, but the case was withdrawn after an agreement last year.

David Congdon, head of policy and campaigns at Mencap, said it was “appalling” that no money had been found to move residents out of Orchard Hill.

Last week, the Independent Living Fund announced it was in talks with the government over the possibility of taking applications from people in current long-stay hospitals and other NHS residential care.

It also announced that it would consider applications from some former long-stay hospital residents, reversing a policy that had long been considered discriminatory by campaigners.

Orchard Hill background

  • Many of the remaining residents at Orchard Hill entered as children and have been there for an average of 40 years.
  • In 1991, there were 189 residents at the hospital, in 2003 there were 105, and there are now 93.

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