Winterbourne ViewThe government has failed to meet its commitment to ensure that people with a learning disability are supported to return to their communities from units like Winterbourne View. 

The deadline for making this happen – as outlined in the government’s final response to the Winterbourne View scandal in December 2012 – passed on June 1. Currently, about 3,250 people with a learning disability still remain in assessment and treatment units in England.

In a letter published on May 30 in The Telegraph, families of the victims abused at Winterbourne View assessment and treatment unit, families of people stuck in similar places, and leading charities expressed their concern at the failure of the Government, the NHS and local authorities to meet the deadline. 

Mencap and The Challenging Behaviour Foundation have also released a report, Winterbourne View: The Scandal Continues, which highlights how much needs to be done to make the government’s commitment. 

For instance, more people with a learning disability are going into units than are leaving them. NHS England research shows that over the past 6 months 544 people were admitted to units, while only 339 people came out. Meanwhile, 90% of those in units have no date set for when they will leave.  

Units for people with a learning disability were identified in the Winterbourne Serious Case Review as places where people are at “risk of receiving abusive and restrictive practices”. The Learning Disability Census 2013 revealed that of the 3,250 people with a learning disability in units: 

64% had been regularly given anti-psychotic medication 

57% had experienced self-harm, an accident, physical assault, hands-on restraint or been kept in seclusion

60% have been in a unit for one year or more. One in 6 has been in a unit for 5 years or more

It costs an average of £4,500 per week for someone to be in a unit. It is entirely possible to develop the right support and services for most individuals within their local community. In many cases it will cost the same or even less.

“Appalling failure”

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, commented: “It is three years since the nation was shocked and sickened to witness the systematic abuse of people with a learning disability at Winterbourne View. The Panorama programme was a watershed moment – there was a clear commitment to ensure that people with a learning disability were able to get the right support and services in their local community as swiftly as possible so they can move away from these oppressive units.

“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. Worse still, we know more people are being admitted to these units than are being transferred out. Local areas have just not developed the right support and services. This means they remain in these places where we know they are frequently overmedicated, restrained and are at significant risk of abuse.  

“It is entirely possible to develop the right support and services around most individuals within their local community. In many cases this will cost the same or even less. What is needed now is the will and determination to make the changes required – it cannot be beyond government and the NHS to achieve this. The Prime Minister must take personal responsibility and address this failure of national Government, local Government and the NHS.”

Steve Sollars, father of Sam, who was at Winterbourne View, said the Government’s failure was “unacceptable.”  

He added that Sam was restrained 45 times in a 6-month period while he was at Winterbourne View. “We will never know how much more he was subjected for the rest of his two-year time there.  When he came out of Winterbourne View Sam was unrecognisable because of what he had been through. He is now flourishing in the place where he is. Good care is possible and everything must be done to stop abuse and suffering of people who find themselves in similar places to Sam. I am going to keep fighting – along with all the other families whose sons and daughters have been in Winterbourne View or places like it – for every person with a learning disability stuck in a unit to get the support they need close to home.”

Frustration

Lisa Hopkins, executive director of practice development at Dimensions, expressed her frustration at the lack of progress in moving people back into the community: “The best way to ensure an improvement in quality of life and that abuse is prevented in the future is to support people to live in their own communities, using personalised support, and surrounded by their family.  

“Out-of-area and institutionalised services have a negative effect on people’s lives - often exacerbating challenging behaviour and leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Nobody should ever have to experience this. 

“For a variety of reasons, change isn’t happening fast enough and it’s very disappointing that the targets set in the wake of Winterbourne View are not being met. It is also frustrating that admissions into long-stay hospital settings are happening at a faster rate than people are being discharged; despite the targets being set. 

“As a national support organisation, Dimensions is experiencing more enquiries to support people who need to move away from inappropriate settings and into their own homes in the community.  Already, those who have moved to Dimensions from out-of-area placements are seeing positive outcomes which are less expensive than their previous support costs. But we want to see everybody with learning disabilities being able to have choice and control in their lives. This needs to happen soon.”

Government response

In response to this, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: “The terrible abuses at Winterbourne View were a wake-up call across the whole health and care system but progress to bring about change has been unacceptably slow. 

“I want to see a real change of pace in the next few months to move people out of institutions where appropriate, and, with the right support, back into the community. NHS England has been tasked to develop a clear plan to move things forward quickly.”