'Lack of progress' on disabled care

The families of the victims of the Winterbourne View care home scandal have raised concerns over a "lack of progress" in the treatment of people with learning disabilities.

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Patients were abused by staff at Winterbourne View residential hospital in Bristol

The families of the victims of the Winterbourne View care home scandal have raised concerns over a "lack of progress" in the treatment of people with learning disabilities.

In a letter to Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb, family members of seven victims said they were "saddened" so many people suffering from learning disabilities live in assessment and treatment units miles away from their families.

The letter follows official figures that suggest that almost one in five people with learning disabilities are being treated at least 100 kilometres away from their homes.

Published on the website of the charity Mencap, the letter reads: "We, the families of the victims of Winterbourne View, families of others who have been in similar places, and supporting organisations, write to you to express our concern at the lack of progress made since we met with you last year and share with you our dismay that some of our brothers, sisters and children remain in units hundreds of miles away from home and could be at significant risk.

"Last year, we met with you to share our experiences, you listened intently and we trusted that action would be taken. You promised that no one should live in an assessment and treatment unit miles away from their family. We are deeply saddened that our voices seem to have made so little difference to the lives of the thousands of people with a learning disability who remain in places like Winterbourne View.

"We hoped that the expose of Winterbourne View would give a unique opportunity to end the horror that people with a learning disability face, shut away in units, out of sight and out of mind."

Last year, 11 care workers admitted a total of 38 charges relating to the abuse and neglect of patients at Winterbourne View. Six were jailed and the others received suspended sentences after they were secretly filmed by BBC Panorama abusing patients at the home, which looked after people with severe learning difficulties.

The latest figures, published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), show that 18.2% of hospital inpatients with learning disabilities in England are staying on wards 100km or more away from their homes.

The new HSCIC report also shows that among inpatients who normally lived in the South West, more than half were in wards 100km or more from home, compared to 8.8% in the North East.

The data, concerning 3,250 patients, also found that six in 10 had been inpatients for a year or more. Of the 1,949 who had been in hospital for a year or more, 572 had been inpatients for five or more years.

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of charity Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, chief executive of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, said in a joint statement: "The pace of progress has been distressingly slow.

"It is now two and half years since the Winterbourne View scandal and the census and progress report show nothing has changed. Many people with a learning disability are still in inpatient units hundreds of miles away from their homes and many have been there for over a year or more.

"We have been granted a once in a lifetime opportunity post Winterbourne View to get care right. If the Government and local areas don't stop dithering, we will miss this unique opportunity."

Guy Parckar head of policy and campaigns at charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, added: "Today's figures are very concerning in light of the scandal at Winterbourne View.

"Local services like social care and housing are under immense pressure at the moment, and this can put real strain on hospitals and other health services. It is vital that the government looks in to these figures very carefully to try to understand what is going wrong, and what needs to change."

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "It is not acceptable for people to still be left in institutions if they are able, with support, to live in their own community and we expect all patients who are found to be inappropriately placed in hospital will be moved, or have a plan to move, to high quality and safe support in the community by next summer.

"I am left deeply frustrated by the time it is taking commissioners to do what has to be done - they must get a grip of this issue.

"This inertia is completely unacceptable and we will take specific action if they fail to act."