One of the major objectives in Valuing People, the government’s 2001 learning difficulties strategy, was to “enable people with learning disabilities to access a health service designed around their individual needs”.
Given the findings of Death by Indifference, it seems unlikely that this target has yet been met. Objectives included reducing health inequalities, enabling mainstream services to meet the needs of people with learning difficulties and promoting NHS specialised learning difficulty services.
Unlike other areas of the strategy, there are no performance indicators attached to the health objective but the document promised that indicators would be developed.
Mencap head of external relations David Congdon believes there has not been enough impetus behind the objective and, although the government has done much to tackle geographical inequalities in health, there has been far less focus on disadvantaged groups.
In his review of progress in implementing Valuing People 18 months ago, director for Valuing People Rob Greig identified health as an area where progress had been disappointing. But he says there is a ministerial commitment, made late last year, to review performance indicators in healthcare.
In terms of specific action, Valuing People promised that all people with learning difficulties would have received a health action plan by 2005.
Alison Giraud-Saunders, co-director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, says this has happened in some areas but not in others. Greig promises guidance on health action planning will be published in the future. But he adds: “Valuing People identified and called for that, but that was not then translated into objectives and requirements on the NHS as a whole.” How the needs of people with learning difficulties are translated into objectives for the mainstream NHS will be a major challenge facing the independent inquiry, he suggests.
Valuing People also called for a feasibility study into a confidential inquiry into the deaths of people with learning difficulties in the NHS. Mencap says the feasibility study has been carried out but no announcement has been made on when or if the inquiry will go ahead.
It believes a confidential inquiry would identify all those who had died prematurely in the NHS so allowing the scale of the problem to be gauged. But it seems unlikely that this will go ahead as it has now been overtaken by the government’s independent inquiry, which Greig says will focus more on outcomes than data collection.
Inquiry into Mencap claims could be wake-up call for health service