A 'trade in people’ with learning disabilities and/or autism is escalating, a partnership of activists, families and Lancaster University academics claim today.

The number of people in inpatient units run by the independent sector is increasing (now 52%) when national government policy is for the opposite to happen, the new report has established.

£477 million was spent on keeping just 2,500 people with learning disabilities and/or autism in hospital last year.

The publication, entitled A Trade in People, has been released by the University’s Centre for Disability Research (CeDR) on the eve of voting on the Queen's Speech.

'Blind eye' being shown by politicians

“Recent governments have turned a blind eye to the healthcare economy developing in a way that turns people into commodities and liabilities, and have no plan for doing anything about it,” co-author Professor Chris Hatton told Learning Disability Today.

“A laissez-faire attitude towards the independent sector will not achieve the big reduction in inpatient services that government has been aiming for in the six years since Winterbourne View.”

The report team studied all existing Transforming Care Plans, which aim to improve services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, and made a Freedom of Information request to NHS England for the financial appendices to the plans.

Families of a person put into an inpatient unit often face long and difficult journeys for infrequent hour-long visits, making it difficult to maintain family support and sometimes reducing the likelihood of a discharge, the report states.

In England there are 96 Assessment and Treatment Units run by the independent sector providing 1,290 beds. All are registered with Companies House, the report finds, but only 10 percent are dual registered with the Charity Commission as non-profit making.

Evidence being shared today for the first time shows that while many areas are expected to achieve significant reductions in the number of inpatients, most areas have not been selected by NHS England to receive funding to support them in achieving the targets.

Care in the community

Elsewhere, NHS England have commented today on their decision to invest £800,000 in supported housing in neighbouring Lancashire.

"It is a real step forward in terms of how we support people in the North West who have a learning disability, autism or both, and their families, in the future," a spokesperson said.