A report by NHS England and Council leaders has confirmed the decision to close Calderstones Hospital in Lancashire - the only remaining learning disability hospital in England.
This is said to be a key milestone in the on-going Transforming Care Programme, which was implemented following the investigation into the neglect and abuse of patients at Winterbourne View Hospital in Hambrook, South Gloucestershire in 2011.
A report in December last year by the Care Quality Commission found “serious deficiencies” in the quality of care at Calderstones, and revealed that 40 per cent of patients have resided there for five years or more, mostly detained under the Mental Health Act, and many subject to Ministry of Justice restrictions.
Over the next three years all Calderstones patients will be moved on a case-by-case basis to community placements including in new state- of-the-art units elsewhere in the North West.
It is anticipated that only 40 per cent of the patients - those who have committed serious offences or are deemed unable to live independently in the community - will be placed in other secure units.
Mersey Care NHS Trust intends to take over the Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which will cease to exist from next July.
The plan for closure and resettlement sets out the need for local housing that meets the specific needs of a diverse patient group with high care needs, such as schemes where people have their own home but ready access to on-site support staff, and a rapid and ambitious expansion of the use of personal budgets, enabling people and their families to plan their own care.
The report has also noted that those for whom hospital has effectively become a permanent home will likely be eligible for NHS-funded dowries when they are ready to be discharged, to help fund their new package of care in the community.
The plan has been welcomed by many in the public and care sector. Ray James, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Vice-Chair of the Transforming Care delivery board said: “ADASS welcomes this clear and ambitious national plan and is committed to ensuring that people with learning disabilities are supported to lead meaningful, independent lives in their local community wherever possible.”
It is, however, clear that there is still work to be done. Sir Stephen Bubb, who last year carried out a government review of the lack of progress on the Winterbourne View agenda, has commented that the plan is credible and practical, but “…is against a background of a dismal failure to move people out of institutions over the last five years, and I think there will be some scepticism amongst families that anything is going to happen on the ground.” He went on to say: “I think it will. I think we are at a turning point and we will see the closure of institutions and the scale-up of community provision.”
Rob Greig, Chief Executive of the National Development Team for Inclusion, has commented that the objective should be to develop good community supports from new, skilled social care providers and that “Just having closing assessment and treatment beds as a target could lead to poor support being transferred into a community setting."
In preparing this report, NHS England and Council leaders have set out a promising plan to provide people with learning difficulties with quick, significant and lasting improvements to their lives. It is now time to put these plans into action.
Liz Perry is a lawyer in the disability rights team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
To speak with a human rights solicitor about any of the issues raised in this blog, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.