Fears that learning disabled people leaving NHS residential accommodation are being “institutionalised by the back door” in private hospitals are unfounded, a Community Care investigation has revealed.
A freedom of information request to primary care trusts found that only 1% of people who have left NHS campuses since 2001 have received assessment or treatment in private learning disability hospitals.
The government has a policy of closing all NHS campuses by the end of the year on the basis that their residents have less choice and poorer outcomes than those in other types of accommodation such as supported housing. Campuses generally house former long-stay hospital patients.
Concerns that private hospitals were effectively replacing NHS campuses were raised in April this year after the Department of Health said the use of such hospitals was increasing.
This was described as “institutionalising people by the back door” by James Churchill, chief executive of learning disability provider umbrella group the Association for Real Change. At the time, he claimed people were ending up in hospitals because of inadequate investment in specialist community services.
Speaking this week, Churchill said Community Care‘s figures appeared positive but he warned there had still been a growth in large institutions that had been shown not to provide good outcomes. He said: “Where are the people in these private hospitals coming from? What we are doing is exchanging one group of people in an outdated setting for another group of people in an outdated setting.”
Of the 18 people identified as ending up in private hospitals across 41 PCTs, stays ranged from five months to four-and-a-half years.
Ted Smith, chief executive of Craegmoor, one of the country’s biggest independent learning disability providers, said: “Our prefered model of learning disability hospital is small and [broken into units]. We are looking to build one at the moment for 24 people in units of six.” He added Craegmoor aimed to limit lengths of stay to 12 to 18 months.
Community Care surveyed all 70 PCTs who have received Department of Health funding since 2007 to transfer people out of campuses into community-based accommodation.