The care of people with learning disabilities in specialist health services has improved following intensive scrutiny from the Healthcare Commission but there is still some way to go.
That was the message from Fiona Ritchie (pic right), the commission’s learning disability lead, in an interview with Community Care before it merges into the Care Quality Commission next week.
Ritchie said the commission’s work on learning disabilities over the past three years, particularly findings of institutional abuse in Cornwall and Sutton and Merton, south London, and a damning audit of NHS and independent sector provision, had led to the client group being given greater priority.
“Chief executives definitely have their heads out of the sand,” said Ritchie. “People understand that people with learning disabilities have human rights. The Healthcare Commission has shone a spotlight.”
In particular, she said the July 2006 Cornwall report, conducted with the Commission for Social Care Inspection, “sent rumblings across England”. Findings included physical abuse by staff, an over-reliance on medication to control behaviour and illegal and prolonged use of restraint.
Services at Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust and Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust were rated as vastly improved in reports last year.
More to do on learning disabilities
However, Ritchie said there was still a lot to do on learning disabilities, citing last week’s review of learning disability commissioning by the Healthcare Commission, the CSCI and the Mental Health Act Commission, which found only a minority of service users had person-centred plans, most of which were poor.
On the back of an audit in December 2007, the commission introduced the first performance indicators for NHS learning disability services. These covered the number of people with a care plan and the number resident on NHS campuses.
Report of specialist services
The CQC, which will also absorb the MHAC and CSCI, will report on these this year, and will also publish the results of a second Healthcare Commission national audit of specialist learning disability services in June.
Ritchie said she expected the CQC to bring “enormous benefit” for people with learning disabilities, adding: “Hopefully, when we do things in a more joined-up manner people will see an improvement.”