Protest sparked by plans for firm criticised in probe to open hospital

A private hospital group which was forced to close a care unit for adolescents in England last year faces huge opposition over its plans to open a hospital in Wales for people with learning difficulties.

Learning Disability Wales, which represents more than 120 organisations, is writing to health and social care commissioners urging them to place people with learning difficulties in the community, in line with the Welsh learning difficulties strategy, rather than at the former Ebbw Vale Hospital, which was bought by St Luke’s Hospital Group in April.

St Luke’s, which is part of Mild Professional Homes, paid NHS Wales £750,000 for the Gwent site. The hospital closed in November 2005 and is due to reopen by the end of the year housing adults and children with learning difficulties.

However, St Luke’s was forced to close the Harleston unit in Attleborough last year after a Healthcare Commission investigation revealed serious concerns over the treatment of adolescents with learning difficulties.

Learning Disability Wales director James Crowe said campaigners were “frankly aghast” at the development.

“We are unhappy this decision seems to have been taken on the basis of disposing of real estate,” he said. “We see no place in
Wales for this type of facility. The two largest hospitals for people with learning difficulties closed a few years ago, and smaller-scale accommodation is the norm.”

Joyce Howarth, a campaigner for Advocacy Action Wales, said the hospital “made a mockery” of the Welsh learning difficulties strategy and called for it to be closed down.

In April, David Felce, co-chair of the Welsh Assembly learning disability implementation advisory group, wrote to health and social services minister Brian Gibbons highlighting concerns over the development.

In response, Gibbons said it would be up to local authorities and health boards to decide whether to fund placements at the hospital.

Mild Professional Homes was unavailable for comment.

Welsh strategy
The 1983 All Wales Strategy for the Development of Services for Mentally Handicapped People, seen as the equivalent of England’s Valuing People white paper, said people with learning difficulties should have the right to live in the community.
The strategy has led to the closure of most long-stay hospitals for people with learning difficulties in Wales.

Further information
Learning Disability Wales

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