Renewed calls have been made for the Government to ensure real change is made to the learning disability residential sector, after a new Panorama investigation made further allegations of abuse in residential facilities.

Following Panorama’s broadcast on Monday [October 29], several learning disability organisations have called again on the Government to urgently reform the current assessment and treatment regime.

Panorama, entitled The Hospital That Stopped Caring, was a follow-up to its expose of Winterbourne View and revealed that safety alerts had been raised about 19 of 51 former patients since they moved out of the former hospital to other establishments.

But not all of the safeguarding alerts meant that a patient had been harmed. However, Panorama revealed that least one patient has been assaulted and one criminal inquiry is under way.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said that the system is warehousing difficult patients, rather than focusing on treating them: “What allowed Winterbourne and places like it to flourish was that those places were effectively being used as a dumping ground by public bodies who hadn’t planned ahead… When you’re making a large profit you have no incentive to try and help with the discharge of somebody.”                    

The Department of Health has issued a number of statements committing to reducing the number of people being sent away for long periods for ‘assessment and treatment’ and agree that people should move out of services quickly and that local services should be commissioned.

But charities including Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have expressed disappointment that there is no indication as yet of how the Government is going to enforce these changes, the timetable for closure or the reallocation of funds.

The families and charities have asked for an urgent meeting with Lamb, to press the Government to use its final report on the scandal in November to announce how it will enforce a phased closure programme of institutions like Winterbourne View, and clarify how it will ensure that local services are provided and funded.

Vivien Cooper, founder of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, added: “We are talking about people's daughters, sons, brothers and sisters who have the same human rights as you or I. Too often individuals are being sent away from their families because the right support isn't in place locally. This must change. They should be able to stay close to the people who love them.”

Steve Scown, chief executive of learning disability services provider Dimensions, also called on the Government to make changes to the system: “The fact is that incidents of abuse were happening before the Winterbourne View case. They will continue to happen elsewhere unless the Government is willing to take urgent decisions concerning the use of long-stay hospitals and ensuring that commissioning and regulation is driven by prevention not reaction.

“This is especially fundamental in this financial climate as local authorities struggle with funding cuts. There also needs to be long-term investment in training and development to attract the right people to the sector in the first place.”

In response to Panorama, speaking in the Commons yesterday [October 30], Care Services Minister Norman Lamb set out the Government’s position. “What Panorama exposed is utterly intolerable and has to come to an end. I am absolutely determined that when I make the Government’s final response by the end of November, it will be robust and clear so that everybody understands what has to happen.

“For years and years, public money has been spent on putting people into inappropriate settings, often putting them at risk of abuse. That is a national scandal, and it has to end. I will be very clear about ensuring that we take robust and effective action.”