The government has pledged £62 million in funding to help discharge patients with learning disabilities and/or autism from mental health hospitals into the community.
The Community Discharge Fund, previously announced in the Spring Budget, will be allocated to local councils over three years, with £20m budgeted for 20/21.
It will pay for costs associated with discharge, including establishing community teams, funding accommodation and staff training.
A new independent oversight panel, led by Baroness Hollins, has also been set up to 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.
Baroness Hollins said supporting people to live well in their own homes would be “the best outcome”, but there may be circumstances people’s mental health requires a “short admission” for specialist assessment and development of an “evidence-based treatment plan”.
She added: “Since November I have been reviewing all of those instances when people with learning disabilities and autistic people have been detained in long-term segregation.
“I have now appointed an oversight panel to assist me in understanding what I have found out, and in making urgent recommendations to the government. Our aim is to prevent the use of seclusion and restraint in future.”
Data published today by NHS Digital shows that 2,085 patients with learning disabilities and/or autism were in hospital at the end of June.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Far too many people with learning disabilities and autistic people remain in hospital when they could receive better-suited support in their communities, closer to their homes and loved ones.
“So, I am delighted this new funding will help local authorities to support discharges into the community more quickly for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.”
In March 2019, former Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage MP, outlined that the ambition for March 2020 was to reduce the rate of inpatients with a learning disability and/or autism by 35% from the total number of inpatients in March 2015.
Figures released earlier this year in April by NHS Digital, showed that there had only been a 27% reduction, therefore missing the outlined target by 8%. Equally as significant, of those in hospital at the end of May 2020, 1,255 (61%) had a total length of stay of over 2 years.
Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said that while will the funding will help some people avoid inappropriate admissions and enable others to be discharged from inpatient units, there is “no clear roadmap” for how the recommendations made by Baroness Hollins will be implemented.
“There are still over 2000 people with a learning disability and/or autism locked away in hospitals, often hundreds of miles away from their family and at greater risk of abuse and neglect,” she said.
“What we urgently need now is a robust, cross-government strategy to drive forward the transformational change required to truly transform social care.”
Commenting on today’s funding announcement, Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of VODG, said the £62m falls “significantly short” of what is needed to “truly transform care” and “end institutionalised” detention for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.
Earlier analysis from VODG highlighted the variable performance across transforming care partnerships in terms of successfully discharging people from NHS-funded care into the community. In response, the charity called for urgent action and additional funding of £400m over four years to invest in developing community provision that can support people with the most complex needs.
“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,” said Dr Hughes.
“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.”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “It is imperative, despite the increased pressure the care system has come under in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, that people with a learning disability and/or autism are enabled to enjoy their rights to live purposeful lives as active members of families and communities.
“Care England has long highlighted the issues around meeting the objectives of the Transforming Care agenda, accordingly it is encouraging to see a decisive step taken in the right direction. However, this money must be earmarked and used to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. We welcome this grant and look forward to working with Baroness Hollins to help reach a long-term solution to the admission of the most vulnerable in society into inappropriate settings”.