The government has announced a three-year £62million Community Discharge Fund to help local authorities discharge people with learning disabilities and/or autism from inpatient settings into more appropriate care in less restrictive settings or into the community.
A new independent oversight panel, made up of clinical, psychological and commissioning experts as well as those with a lived experience, has also been set up that will make recommendations to transform the care and treatment of people with a learning disability and/or autism and prevent unnecessary admissions and the use of restrictive practices in future.
The funding announcement comes alongside the publication of NHS Digital’s Learning Disability Services Monthly Statistics, which show that at the end of June 2020, there were 2,085 people with a learning disability or autism in-patient hospitals in England.
Commenting on today’s funding announcement, Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of VODG, said:
“Secluded institutional care is fundamentally wrong and exposes people who are in the most vulnerable circumstances to serious risk of harm. There are no excuses for this type of provision in the 21st century.
“While we welcome the renewed focus on moving people with learning disabilities and/or autism from inpatient settings into the community, where they can be better supported, there is a need for local partnership working with the voluntary sector and concerns remain over the provision of this funding.
“Earlier analysis from VODG highlighted the highly variable performance across transforming care partnerships in terms of successfully discharging people from NHS-funded care into the community. In response, VODG called for urgent action and additional funding of £400million over four years to invest in developing community provision that can support people with the most complex needs.
“The £62million announced today falls significantly short of what is needed to truly transform care and end institutionalised detention for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.
“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has clearly demonstrated that central government money passed to local authorities has not reached frontline provision to support disabled people. It is absolutely essential that all parts of the system work together to prevent the ongoing repetition of failed policy making. VODG believes transparent and efficient accountability measures must be put in place to ensure the most effective use of the Community Discharge Fund.
“We know that there already exists good and outstanding care and support in the community for people who leave inpatient settings, which enables them to thrive in the community and live independent lives.
“It is vital that local authorities work in genuine partnership with voluntary sector providers and use the funding to develop local pathways that enable people with learning disabilities and/or autism to be discharged from in-patient care and to live rich and fulfilling lives in the community.”
On the publication of the Assuring Transformation data, Dr Hughes added:
“It is often said that the true measure of society is how it treats people who are in vulnerable circumstances. With more than 2,000 people still detained in in-patient hospital, this data shows that we are a long way off from making substantial progress in this area. Today’s funding announcement to help move people out of these settings is a start, but more must be urgently done.
“During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, VODG continually highlighted issues around the lack of data related to people with learning disabilities and/or autism. NHS Digital advises that today’s publication is to be “interpreted with care over the COVID-19 period. However, it’s only through the consistent routine reporting and publication of data that the necessary intelligence to help inform current and future service responses can be achieved. If we are to learn from the pandemic thus far and prepare and improve systems for the future, including accelerating progress in Transforming Care, the reporting of data must be improved.”