Winterbourne ViewLabour has called on the Government to commit to a two-year deadline to end the practice of placing vulnerable people with learning disabilities at assessment and treatment units (ATUs) – like the former Winterbourne View – for long periods of time.

During Health Questions in Parliament today, Liz Kendall MP, Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, said the Government should commit to getting all people with learning disabilities back into their community within the next two years.

The Government had committed in December 2012 to moving all people inappropriately placed in ATUs back into the community within 18 months. However, when that deadline passed on June 1, there were still more than 2,500 people living in ATUs. The 2013 Learning Disability Census also found that of those living in ATUs, 60% had been resident for more than a year, while 1 in 6 had been living there for more than 5 years.

Meanwhile, the Winterbourne View Joint Improvement Partnership, which was tasked with driving this agenda through, lost its leader last week after Bill Mumford resigned following a second safeguarding incident at MacIntyre, the learning disability charity where  he is chief executive.

“The whole country was shocked by the serious abuse and appalling standards of care at Winterbourne View,” Kendall said. “Labour warned at the time that without a detailed plan and clear deadlines, progress on putting this right would slip. Sure enough, three years on, there has been hardly any movement towards helping vulnerable people with learning disabilities move into local communities.

“It’s a scandal that only a third of the people who were in ATUs last April have been transferred out and that even today, more people are being sent into them than are being discharged. Over 2,600 people – including 150 children – are being kept away from their families and friends.

“Ministers previously pledged to give people with learning disabilities support in the community or in their own homes – but it’s just not happening. I’m calling on the Government to commit to giving these patients the support they need in the community within the next two years. It’s time that Ministers made good on their promises.”

This call has been welcomed by Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, and Vivien Cooper, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation. In a joint statement, they said: “Following promises made after abuse uncovered at Winterbourne View, there has been a dismal failure to meet the government's June deadline to move people with a learning disability out of assessment and treatment units. Every day that progress is delayed is another day where vulnerable children and adults remain in units where they are at risk of abuse and are often far away from their families and friends.

“A new deadline is important but we really need to see the development of long-term and sustainable care in local communities to ensure people get the right support, in the right place, at the right time. What is imperative is that a clear plan is drawn up which engages everyone who has a role to play in not only moving people out of units but also preventing people being unnecessarily moved into them. 

“Urgent action needs to be taken to bring together better informed clinical decision-making with the development, funding and monitoring of local support and services. Further delays in this programme are simply not acceptable.”