In 2011, the National Health Service faced a scandal when rampant patient abuse at the Winterbourne View private hospital was brought to light. While the NHS shut down the hospital and pledged to take action to prevent such occurrences in the future, their progress over the three years since then has been nearly nonexistent.
Around three thousand autistic and learning disabled people were determined to be at risk, and ministers promised to review and relocate them by a deadline of the first of June. Despite this, the most recent figures show that only one tenth of this at-risk population has been relocated.
Families of the Winterbourne View victims wrote a letter to The Telegraph accusing the Government of an appalling failure to make good on their promise. They called for the Prime Minister himself to become involved and take responsibility on his own shoulders. The minister of health, stated that he, too, was frustrated with the progress, and that he had made clear to the NHS authorities that the transfer of patients was to be a priority.
Many of the people affected by this failure to act are located in facilities that are either ill-equipped to handle their cases, far from their homes and families, or both. Assessment and treatment units, intended to be temporary facilities for the determination of risk during a crisis, are being used to permanently house patients, and the number of patients being sent there is growing.
The funding for these units is tied to their number of residents, and patients are often diagnosed by psychiatrists who work for the units, which leads to a conflict of interest. As such, many more people are being transferred into these facilities than ever leaves. A national audit shows that one in every six residents of these supposedly temporary facilities has been kept there for five years or more.
Norman Lamb, the minister of health, is in talks with Simon Stevens, the new head of the National Health Service, to put systems in place to help alleviate these issues. One proposed solution is to permit the families of patients to request a second opinion from an impartial, unaffiliated psychiatrist. This would allow patients who are being treated in unsuitable facilities to have their needs reassessed by someone without a motive to keep them in a specific institution. Lamb and Stevens also suggested that transferring the patients out of these units and instead treating them at local facilities or in their own homes could save money, in addition to improving the patients’ conditions and quality of care.
Mr Lamb said: “It is impossible for anyone in Whitehall to mandate where each individual person witih learning disabilities is treated, but what I find really distressing is that NHS commissioners pledged a really fundamental change in the model of care, yet people are still being condemned to long stays in these institutions.”
“There is a moral imperative here; it is intolerable that people with learning disabilities are being treated as second class citizens.”
Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “These are patients with complex and very specific needs, some of who are in secure hospitals and will have longer term treatment plans. It is vital that commissioners provide person-centred care in the best setting for each individual and that care is reviewed on a regular basis.”
In a letter to The Telegraph, the families wrote:
“Today we have seen the appalling failure of the Government, the NHS and Local Authorities to meet their own deadline for moving people with a learning disability out of places like Winterbourne View.”
“This breaks a promise made to the families of people who have faced abuse and everyone who watched Panorama and demanded change. But most of all, it is a betrayal of our loved ones who remain in these units, at risk of abuse and neglect, isolated and away from their families.
A national audit found one in six residents of such institutions has been there are least five years.
“The time for talking and excuses is over. The Prime Minister must take personal responsibility and address this failure of national government, local government and the NHS.”