Call to close ‘often disgraceful’ institutions for people with learning disabilities

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has indicated he is ready to consider calls to close all institutions for people with learning difficulties or autism.

The call came from Sir Stephen Bubb, who said recommendations for reform of the system in his 2014 report into abuse at the Winterbourne View home have been “ignored”.

Writing in the Times, Sir Stephen (pictured) said conditions in institutions are “too often disgraceful”, with residents subjected to physical restraint, prolonged solitude and over-medication in ways which almost certainly breach their human rights.

“Away from public view and proper scrutiny, individuals are being subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment,” he said. “These are people with learning disabilities or autism who are being held in institutions run by the state or private companies.

“I have come to the conclusion that no progress will be made unless we finally close all institutions for people with learning disabilities or autism, whether private or public.

“The money should be transferred to develop community services, particularly led by charities, and to develop outstanding models of care and inspection regimes to stamp out abuse.”

Asked whether he was ready to consider the closure of all institutions as part of a review currently under way into the future of the system, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes. I want to look very carefully at what Sir Stephen has said.”

Mr Hancock said he wanted to go “much further” than the target he inherited when he became Health and Social Care Secretary in July to reduce the number of people in secure hospitals by one-third.

In many cases, residents could be looked after in the community and their families have “far, far too little say” on how they are treated, he said.

There had been “absolutely harrowing” cases of individuals with severe learning difficultis being “treated like criminals rather than people we have to have compassion and care for”.

“I’ve been really struck by the concerns and problems around this area since I became Health Secretary,” said Mr Hancock.

“We spend almost half a billion pounds a year on looking after these people. I’m absolutely certain that this can be done far better.

“The Government has got a target which I inherited to reduce by a third the number of people in secure hospitals who are locked up. I absolutely want to hit that, but I want to go much further.

“It’s really affected me, seeing some of these cases, and I’m absolutely going to get to the bottom of it.”

A number of care staff were jailed after undercover filming by BBC Panorama exposed neglect and ill-treatment of residents at the Winterbourne View home in Gloucestershire in 2011.

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