Longest waiting list in the NHS

The first call for the closure of long-stay hospitals for people
with learning difficulties came in a government white paper in
1971. Thirty-three years later we learn that many of the remaining
20 hospitals will not meet this April’s closure deadline set
out in yet another white paper, Valuing People, writes
Natalie Valios.

“Arguably it’s the longest waiting list in the
NHS,” says Rob Greig, national director of the Valuing People
Support Team which is implementing the document’s proposals
for the Department of Health.

The closure programme has not been a top priority for the NHS,
Greig says. “Parts of the NHS felt it was optional but
successive ministers have made it clear that it

When Valuing People was published the Department of Health was
unaware that a significant proportion of the hospitals had not even
begun to start planning for closure, he says. “In a small
number of cases they didn’t even accept that they had to

In 1971 there were about 59,000 people in these hospitals; now
there are about 720 residents in 20 hospitals. Greig estimates
that, by April, 16 hospitals will remain open with about 600

Community care minister Stephen Ladyman has expressed his
disappointment in these hospitals’ failure to meet the
deadline. He accused strategic health authorities (SHAs) of
dragging their feet on the issue and was angry that £20
million allocated to them for people with learning difficulties was
being spent on other things. He told delegates at a conference on
learning difficulties in November that Greig would be talking to
SHAs to “wake up their ideas”.

Those meetings have now taken place and Greig is confident that
SHA chief executives are now committed to the closure programme. He
emphasises that most hospitals are well advanced in their closure
plans but are waiting for housing plans to come on-stream. In the
main, former residents are moving into either residential care or
supported living accommodation.

Greig says: “It’s better to take a bit longer and
get it right than to rush it and get it wrong. That means making
sure the right services are there. That’s why it’s
taking a while.”

Social care charity Turning Point wants the deadline to be moved
to December. Its recent report, Time to Move On, calls for funding
of £15 million to be ring-fenced for transitional costs.
People with learning difficulties are one of the charity’s
client groups. In providing them with supported housing,
residential and day care it has been involved in resettling
individuals from hospitals into the community.

Chief executive Lord Adebowale says: “These people have
suffered because there has been a lack of leadership. There are
issues in the Valuing People strategy that have been left behind
and haven’t received the impetus that they deserve. If these
people were cancer or heart patients there would be a public

Greig feels Turning Point’s deadline is
“unrealistic”. Instead, it was announced at the end of
last year that hospitals would be given individual closure

Adebowale says: “We have set a deadline. If Greig wants to
negotiate a better deadline that’s fine. We want it to be
short, sharp, resourced and ready to roll. We don’t want
people to be told that they are to be left in for another five
years. Closure is not negotiable. Our clients want out.”

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