Valuing People follow-up heralds council takeover of NHS functions

The NHS’s remaining commissioning powers over social care services for people with learning disabilities will transfer to local government in April 2009, the Department of Health said today.

Valuing People Now: From Progress to Transformation, the long-awaited successor to the 2001 Valuing People white paper, sets out a number of proposals for 2008-11 to deliver on the original paper’s principles of empowerment and independent living.

Leading up to 1 April 2009, when all NHS commissioning powers will transfer to local authorities, agreements will be made over the amount of funding to be transferred.  The government will set up a national mediation service to resolve any disputes if they occur. 

Care services minister Ivan Lewis told Community Care: “It’s not about provision.  It’s about moving from a medical to a social model.” 

In most areas, the commissioning of social care services for people with learning disabilities is handled or led by councils, though in some areas the NHS retains this role. However, leaving the NHS in charge of non-medical services has always been an anomaly, whereas the services that were the subject of the scathing inquiries in Cornwall and south London were NHS-commissioned.

Under the proposals, action will be taken to ensure that only people with learning disabilities who are receiving treatment or assessments are admitted as inpatients in the NHS or private sector. This follows concerns in yesterday’s Healthcare Commission national audit of specialist healthcare services for people with learning disabilities, which identified “a potentially large and hidden issue” of healthcare organisations providing residential care services.

The government also aims to strengthen learning disability partnership boards (LDPBs), whose role is to monitor the implementation of Valuing People. The document suggests that LDPBs could be given “more teeth” by placing a statutory requirement on public bodies to work and consult with LDPBs or for them to be co-chaired by a person with learning disabilities and a senior member of the local authority.

Lewis called for “massive advancements in employment” and added that day service modernisation had to be looked at not in isolation but alongside education, training and employment. Valuing People Now also places a new focus on getting real tenancies and home ownership for people with learning disabilities and calls for “rapid progress” with person-centred planning and individual budgets.

Lewis is currently working alongside the Ministry of Justice and Home Office to tackle hate crime so that it is not “regarded as an adult protection issue but a serious issue for the criminal justice system,” he stressed. The document also sets out plans to improve the process of data collection and to transform the DH’s Valuing People Support Team, which was set up to advise organisations on implementing the white paper. 

Lewis claimed that there was now “a far greater number of levers that are available to us now than before to make rapid progress”. These include the cross-government public service agreement targets, included in the comprehensive spending review, to improve access to employment and stable accommodation for people with learning disabilities.

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