Learning disabled people ‘institutionalised by back door’

The NHS and councils are "institutionalising people with learning disabilities by the back door", according to the head of a provider umbrella body.

The NHS and councils are “institutionalising people with learning disabilities by the back door”, according to the head of a provider umbrella body.

James Churchill, chief executive of the Association for Real Change, claimed people who had moved out of NHS campuses into the community were unable to access specialist services in times of crisis, and some were ending up in private hospitals.

He was responding to the government’s 2010-11 delivery plan for its Valuing People Now Strategy, which said the use of private hospitals to house people with learning disabilities has expanded in the past year.

This is despite attempts to close NHS campuses, which are group homes where people with learning disabilities have been found to have less choice than in other forms of housing, such as supported living.

Churchill said: “It’s institutionalisation by the back door. What’s the point in the minister standing up in Parliament saying they have closed the last NHS campuses if there are all these new hospitals. They have even less inspection, control and accountability [than NHS services].”

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, echoed Churchill’s concern, saying: “This is because of a failure to plan local provision at a local level, especially for those with challenging behaviour.”

Congdon and Churchill both said larger institutions were not the best environment for people with learning disabilities.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “It is not appropriate for people who are not undergoing active treatment or assessment to live as NHS inpatients in campuses or in independent ‘learning disability’ hospitals.

However, Yvonne Cox, learning disability lead for the NHS Confederation, stressed that those in independent hospitals were people with both learning disabilities and mental health problems, and not the same client group as those moving out of NHS campuses.

“There’s a need for specialist inpatient services and those individuals are extremely vulnerable if you have them in the mainstream mental health population,” she said.

In its five-year plan for improving learning disability services the Care Quality Commission, which regulates private hospitals, said all patients in them were detained under the Mental Health Act.

However, it said that “in many cases” people were placed there because of the poverty or inappropriateness of previous services they had received and that they tended to be placed away from their local areas.

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