Dan Parton cutEditor Dan Parton looks back at some of the bigger stories involving people with learning disabilities from the past 12 months.

Note: for the purposes of this blog, ‘bigger’ relates to the number of hits a story has had on the website, not necessarily the most significant.

With the passing of another year, it is a good time to look back at some of the stories that made headlines in 2014 for people with learning disabilities.

Sadly, it was often the more negative stories that received the biggest viewing figures. For instance, the on-going case of alleged abuse at the Veilstone care home and others run by the now-defunct Atlas Project Team Ldt received much interest. In 2015, a number of people were charged with abuse-related offences. One assumes the trial will be some time in 2015, so this story will no doubt make the headlines again this year – certainly if, as was claimed when the case first came to light in 2013, the alleged abuse is as bad as that seen at Winterbourne View.

Another tragic case that hit the headlines in 2014 was the death of Connor Sparrowhawk – also known as ‘LB’, short for ‘Laughing Boy’ – who died in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in 2013. His death, according to an independent report, was preventable and there were significant failings in his care and treatment.

Since then, Connor’s mother, Sara Ryan, has led the Justice for LB campaign, which aims to bring Southern Health, which ran the ATU he died in, to account. In addition, in recent months the LB Bill has emerged, which seeks to reinforce disabled people’s right to live in the community unless residential care is strictly necessary. This will be further developed in 2015, with plans to lobby backbench MPs to adopt it in the 2015 Private Members Bill ballot in June.

The LB case again highlighted the need for reform in the ATU/institutional setting sector. The government missed its self-set deadline to move all people inappropriately housed in ATUs by June 1, 2014 by some distance – more than 2,500 people were still living in such institutions and more people were entering them than leaving.

Since then, the Bubb Report has made recommendations for how the sector is reformed, but we await a detailed government response to it.

Meanwhile, the number of Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) applications made rocketed in 2014 with more than 20,000 applications made in England from April to June – 74% more than were made in the whole of the previous year.

This was in large part down to a Supreme Court ruling in March in the cases of P v Cheshire West and Chester Council and P and Q v Surrey County Council. In that judgement, Lady Hale outlined specific criteria that define when a person is deprived of their liberty: if they are not free to leave and if they are under continuous supervision and control. Lady Hale also listed three criteria that are categorically not relevant to the assessment: the 'relative normality' of a person's circumstances; the reasons or motives behind the circumstances; and whether or not the person objects to the living arrangements. 

At the time, it was said to have provided clarity on what constitutes a deprivation of liberty, but this was challenged in November by Court of Protection Judge Mr Justice Mostyn, who contradicted Lady Hale’s interpretation. This decision was met with concern in the sector, with worries that it will create more confusion for professionals.

This confusion is set to continue, although the Law Commission has been asked to review the DoLS, and will publish a consultation document this summer ahead of a final report and draft legislation pencilled in for summer 2017.

On the more positive side, Chessington World of Adventures became the first theme park in England to install an accessible Changing Places toilet for customers with learning disabilities in June. Hopefully others will follow suit and help to make their parks accessible to all. 

Many of the above stories will surely come back into focus in 2015 too, although for a more comprehensive look ahead, check out my earlier blog here.