Government ‘failed to meet targets in Winterbourne View response’

3 Feb 15
The Department of Health has failed to meet its target to move people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of hospitals, according to a report from the National Audit Office.

By Judith Ugwumadu | 4 February 2015

The Department of Health has failed to meet its target to move people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of hospitals, according to a report from the National Audit Office.

In the two years following the commitment, the DoH has made ‘disappointing’ progress in moving patients out of mental health hospitals and into the community, and missed its own deadline to have moved everyone who it was appropriate to by June 2014. This amounted to nearly all of the 3,250 people in such settings, but last September  there were still 2,600 inpatients with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals

Ministers pledged in 2012 to rapidly reduce hospital placements and close and large mental health hospitals, after patient abuse cases were exposed in May 2011 at the Winterbourne View hospital.

However, the public spending watchdog said the government had not determined the scale of the challenge involved increasing the capacity of community placements. The absence of reliable data on the number of people in mental health hospitals complicated the task of discharging inpatients, the Care services for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour found.

‘The process of moving people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of hospital, where appropriate, is complex and defies short-term solutions,’ auditor general Amyas Morse said.

According to the report, NHS England has now decided to discharge 50% of the 2,600 in-patients with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour by the end of March this year.

However, this was unlikely to happen unless all parts of the health and social care systems work effectively together.

‘Although it has now increased its activity, there are formidable care, organisational and service hurdles to overcome in establishing a new model of care in more appropriate settings.’

Responding to the report, care and support minister Norman Lamb agreed that his department had ‘not gone nearly far enough, fast enough’.

‘We know that the scale and complexity of the issue is a challenge and, although there have been some improvements,’ he said. ‘Our concordat [agreed following Winterbourne View] set out the right route to improvement and was backed by professionals, families and charities.’

But Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said it was ‘unacceptable’ for the department to have failed in meeting its core commitment.

‘The data used by NHS England to help it meet its commitments is wholly inadequate when it does not even accurately track the true number of people in and out of these hospitals,’ she added.

‘It is also deeply concerning to learn that the NAO found errors in 70% of the patient records it looked at.’

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