A question put by Baroness Boothroyd, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, in the House of Lords yesterday, has troubled me.
"To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards implementing their programme to withdraw provision of NHS residential accommodation for people with severe learning disabilities by 2010.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, the Government are making good progress towards the commitment announced in Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, published in 2006, to close NHS residential accommodation—campuses—for people with learning disabilities by 2010. In August 2007, about 2,100 people lived in NHS campuses. By October 2008, the number was about 1,000. The Government’s commitment to measuring progress in the campus closure programme is part of the Valuing People Now published delivery plan.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, while thanking the Minister for his reply, I must express my concern about the uncertain future of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Will he confirm that their dispersal from NHS campuses has no statutory authority, contrary to the impression that many NHS authorities have given? Is he aware that local authorities have no legal obligation to provide 24-hour care services and that some have abandoned plans to build special housing? Will the Government ensure that these vulnerable people are properly assessed for living in the community as the law requires and, if those obligations and the White Paper commitments are not implemented, will the Government consider postponing next year’s deadline?
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. Many people who are still in campuses need very high levels of support—for example, those with physical or sensory disabilities as well as their learning disabilities, or even complex behaviours that compose a challenge for services. Government policy is clear: everyone could benefit from good support to live in the community if that support is tailored to their particular requirements. I cannot stress enough what at local level that personalised care should be about. The noble Baroness also asked about the statutory powers. The White Paper does not have the effect of statute and did not create a mandatory duty to close NHS campuses. However, there has been extensive public involvement and consultation carried out nationally and in the lead-up to the White Paper."
This response from the minister is not very reassuring. The policy is not quite as reckless as it first appears to be – and indeed I am told by a press officer that the Conservatives support it. The idea is to transistion to care in the community.
My worry – which I have about many aspects of policy – is that individual councils will not pull their weight.