Learning disabilities: Sutton on the up after scathing report

Learning disabilities services in an area where “institutional abuse” was revealed in a report in January are improving, according to inspectors, advocates and service leaders.

Sutton, south London, has one of the last two long-stay hospitals in the country, Orchard Hill (see box), and according to national co-director of learning disabilities Rob Greig has a “disproportionately large number of outdated services” and faces major challenges.

In January, the Healthcare Commission found institutional abuse and a culture of dependency at Orchard Hill and 11 homes in Sutton, Merton and East Sussex, all run by Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust.

But last week, a Commission for Social Care Inspection report on Sutton Council’s services for people with learning disabilities found “promising capacity for improvement”, with a clear strategic direction, and praised employment support services. But it criticised the “heavy reliance” on one “old-fashioned” day centre, the low take-up of direct payments and continued existence of Orchard Hill.

The council and PCT’s learning disabilities services are led by jointly-appointed executive head Shaun O’Leary, who is responsible for delivering a 25-point action plan. He said this was being met, including targets to complete person-centred care plans for residents at Orchard Hill and the 11 homes this month.

“We’ve taken a step change from a caring health model to a social care model, empowering people to have choice in life,” he added.

Jonathan Senker, chief executive of local advocacy organisation Advocacy Partners, which has worked with Orchard Hill residents, found the CSCI’s findings “fair” and said there was “potential for positive changes”. But he added: “There is a great deal more that needs to be done to enable people to have a real choice and participate on an equal footing.”

O’Leary revealed there 67 people would still be in Orchard Hill as of this month, down from 80 in June and 93 in January. All of them must be moved in supported living or residential care by April 2009, five years after the original deadline for the closure of all long-stay hospitals. The only other remaining long-stay hospital, Prudhoe in Northumberland, has one remaining resident, who is due to leave next month.

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