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Government slow to improve services for people with learning disabilities, report finds

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i1118 (Published 23 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1118
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. BMJ

The government should establish a new national commissioner to promote and protect the rights of people with learning disabilities and autism in England, a new report has said.1

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, has been reviewing services since the BBC’s Panorama investigative journalism programme showed abuse at the private Winterbourne View Hospital near Bristol in 2011. He said that progress had been too slow since the scandal.2

Bubb, who was asked by NHS England to look into “serious shortcomings” in the support for those with learning disabilities, said that the system had not implemented the recommendations from his previous report in November 2014.3 That report said that psychiatric hospitals for people with learning disabilities or autism must close. It also said that the rights of people with a learning disability, their families, and carers needed to be strengthened.

The latest report from Bubb said that the appointment of a commissioner with a statutory duty would make sure that faster progress was made towards legally enshrining rights for people with learning disabilities.

He called for the Department of Health to commission a “real time, independent evaluation” of the national transforming care programme so that progress towards the changes that his report recommended could be tracked.

While the proposals were accepted by NHS England and ministers, the government missed its target to move every person with a learning disability or autism who was inappropriately housed in a hospital to more suitable settings by June 2014.

Last March the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said that failures to close psychiatric hospitals and to tackle the financial disincentives for rehousing patients were to blame for the government missing its target.4

There is now a deadline to reduce the number of inpatient beds by up to 50% nationally by 2019 and to develop community based services to prevent people from being admitted to hospital.

Bubb said failing to deliver the programme of reforms was “simply not an option.”

“Nearly five years after the scandal at Winterbourne View Hospital we are still waiting to see any changes—it is time that someone is given the job that needs doing, which is making life better for all children and adults with learning disabilities, and ensuring their rights are respected and enhanced, and their views taken seriously,” he said.

“It would be a needless scandal if we came to 2019 only to find one more promise has been broken,” he added.

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