Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

The year in learning disability news

Dan Parton cutEditor Dan Parton looks back at some of the bigger news stories of the past year on the Learning Disability Today website.

For this blog, I’m looking at the stories that garnered the most views on the Learning Disability Today website over the course of the year. This does not mean they were the most significant – that is a matter of opinion.

The most viewed news story on the website in 2013 sadly involved another case of alleged abuse in a learning disability hospital setting. In October, police arrested 7 care workers from the Veilstone Care Home in Bideford in Devon. At the time, the solicitor acting for some of the residents said this case could be one of the worst incidents of abuse of vulnerable adults in residential care.

The investigation into what happened at Veilstone is on-going, so we will probably find out the results of this later this year. If the allegations are proved, then this could easily be as big a story as Winterbourne View, and will again ask serious questions about the use of assessment and treatment centres.

Unfortunately, there are other cases of failing services making the headlines. In November, regulator the Care Quality Commission issued a damning inspection report into Slade House in Headington, Oxfordshire, which met none of the minimum standards for care and required urgent action in several areas.

Again, this story is on-going and Learning Disability Today will look to report on new developments during 2014.

Veilstone and Slade House are unlikely to be the last stories of this nature. I have been told by sources that there are other failing assessment and treatment-type units, but the details are not yet in the public domain.

Elsewhere, discrimination was again a big issue for people with learning disabilities. The launch of a free 24-hour telephone helpline, Stop Learning Disability Hate Crime, for people with learning disabilities who have been victims of disability hate crime created a lot of interest in February.

The recorded cases of disability hate crime rose again last year, and although this is still said to be the tip of the iceberg, initiatives such as this are welcome. Not only can callers to the helpline report hate crimes, they also receive offers of additional support, referrals or signposting where appropriate.

On a lighter note, a ‘life swap’ involving a man with Down’s syndrome and a NHS Trust chief executive was one of the most viewed stories of 2013. Here, Tom Cahill, chief executive of Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, spent the day with John, a service user from Stevenage who has Down’s syndrome and early onset dementia. This included spending time at John’s day centre and at his residential care home.

Later in the year, John shadowed Cahill for the day, visiting his office and seeing some of what his role involves.

Also, what started out as a blog has developed into a news story. In March, Gary Bourlet, an advocate with learning disabilities blogged on why he believed there should be a national self-advocacy organisation, such as a People First England.

“The self-advocacy movement in England needs a united front and it would be good to develop better ways of working together to support people with learning disabilities in leading campaigns against inequality,” he wrote.

This blog received a terrific response – Bourlet was inundated with emails of support and ideas for how a national organisation could work.

He followed this up in July, outlining his vision for what a People First England could look like based on the responses he received to the first blog.

Since then, People First England has begun to take shape. In November, it received its first funding pledge of £5,000 from support provider Choice Support. Since then, more funding has come in and various organisations are providing support to make People First England a reality. Again, Learning Disability Today will continue to report on its development in 2014.

These are just a few of the news stories covered on the website in 2013. Other topics, such as the continuing worries over benefit reform, the provision (or lack) of short break services for carers, and the healthcare inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities, also generated significant interest over the course of the year.

All these, and more, will doubtless continue to be at the forefront of the minds of all those with learning disabilities, or who provide services for them, in 2014.

We’re also open to guest blog submissions, and if you have a great idea, like Gary Bourlet, and would like a forum to discuss this further, please get in touch at [email protected]

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