The number of hospital beds for people with learning disabilities and autism will be halved in England, the NHS has announced.
It is a response to the abuse scandal exposed by the BBC at Winterbourne View and will see patients “live in homes, not hospitals”.
The largest learning disability hospital, Calderstones in Lancashire, will be closed as part of the measures.
However, campaigners questioned the amount of funding for the new system.
‘Culture of cruelty’
Four-and-a-half years ago the BBC’s Panorama programme exposed abuse of people with learning disabilities and autism at the now closed Winterbourne View Specialist hospital near Bristol.
Six care workers were jailed and five were given suspended sentences for a “culture of cruelty” that included slapping patients, pulling their hair and trapping them under chairs.
The NHS admits people with a learning disability or autism have been failed for decades and Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, said: “Now is the time to put things right.”
Around 2,600 such patients are in hospital at the moment, with three-quarters of them having been there for more than a year.
Each bed costs £175,000 per year, is “often inappropriate” and used as a long-term option because of a lack of alternatives, the NHS said.
In a significant shift in the way care is provided, hospital units will be closed and £45m invested in community services.
‘Homes, not hospitals’
Announcing the plans Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “As good and necessary as some inpatient care can be, people with learning disabilities are clear they want to live in homes, not hospitals.
“We’ve seen some progress over the last few years, but now is the moment to grasp the nettle and build the excellent community-based support that will allow people to move out of hospitals.”
NHS England expects the number of hospitalised patients to fall to between 1,300 and 1,700 in the next three years.
In areas that rely the most on inpatient care, NHS England predicts the number of beds will be culled by 70%.
The plan will require local councils and the NHS to work closely together to provide:
- Housing which patients can own, but which will still provide access to on-site care
- A “rapid and ambitious expansion” of personal health budgets so patients can plan their own care
- Access to local care and support workers
In a joint statement, the charities Mencap and The Challenging Behaviour Foundation said the report had “strong ambitions” but left many questions unanswered.
It said: “We are concerned about whether sufficient resource and investment is being made available up front to develop the local support and services required.
“Families will be fearful of the fact that there is little new in the report about how local areas can be compelled to make the necessary changes to support services and guard against a postcode lottery of poor care.”
The Local Government Association said the plans needed “to happen urgently”.
But it also issued a warning over funding saying it was a time of “continued financial pressures” for councils and that government needed to ensure the money was there.