The Government published its long-awaited final response to the Winterbourne View scandal this week, and it did not disappoint. Many within the sector have been calling for action, not more words – and the Government has certainly responded. Hopes are now high that reform of learning disability hospitals will follow, and quickly.
Along with the usual fine words about how bad the failings at Winterbourne View were and that the system has to change, the Government has crucially backed those words up with specific reforms and a timetable for their completion.
This is where Winterbourne View hopefully differs from the aftermath of previous scandals, such as those in Sutton and Merton and Cornwall. At the time they occurred, in 2006/7, much was said about how such abuse and poor care must not be allowed to happen again, but then little was done and, consequently, little changed.
But this time it seems that the Government has grasped the nettle and put in place the necessary means to ensure that change does happen and people with learning disabilities are no longer housed inappropriately in assessment and treatment centres.
The report’s timetable for reform is quite tight – but this will focus the minds of commissioners and those in power. More importantly, it will ensure that hundreds of people will be moved relatively quickly back into community settings in their own area.
It seems that, finally, Government is adopting a way forward for learning disability residential services that the late Professor Jim Mansell had been advocating ever since his eponymous 1993 report. Better late than never, I guess.
Indeed, the Government has been clear about what best practice looks like, through the publication of a set of good practice examples alongside the report. These focus on services that are tailored to the individual where they live and include preventative services, community-based alternatives to institutional care, access to advocacy and support and better safeguarding.
So, commissioners, you know what has to be done – now go do it.
But delivery of reform, as always, will be the hardest part. In some areas, commissioners have said they cannot afford to promote independent living. In a recent report, Housing for people with a learning disability, Mencap cited examples where commissioners have said they will only support an independent living package if it costs less than the residential alternative.
But that is a cop-out. With a little creativity, and working in partnership with people with learning disabilities, their families, carer and service providers, the reforms can be delivered – as has been shown in the best practice examples in the document, and the many others not included. These must be learnt from.
The Government’s response brings essential reform closer than it has been before. Now, it has to ensure that it actually happens.