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Winterbourne View report author calls for Learning Disabilities Commissioner

Sir Stephen Bubb, author of a report into the Winterbourne View scandal, has called on the Government to appoint a Learning Disabilities Commissioner.

The role would "place a statutory duty on the holder to promote, enhance, and protect the rights of people with learning disabilities and their families in England" and ensure the delivery of the reforms pledged by NHS England (NHSE).

Sir Stephen made a series of recommendations in his original report, Winterbourne View – Time for Change, in November 2014. He said the two key priorities were:

  1. The closure of inappropriate institutions and the ramping up of community provision; and that
  2. Government legislate for a Charter of Rights for people with learning disabilities and their families.

Sir Stephen said he welcomed the NHSE’s subsequent decision in October 2015 to publish a closure programme.

In a new report this week, Time for change: the challenge ahead, he suggested the challenges of reforming support for the vulnerable were larger than first thought.

He warned that the Government’s proposals to deliver changes – issued in October 2015 – were “based on over-optimistic assumptions”.

Sir Stephen noted that the Government had yet to introduce the recommended legislation on rights, the need for which, he argued, had been recently underlined by the scandal of uninvestigated deaths among patients with learning disabilities in the care of the NHS Southern Health Trust.

The latest report estimated that 10,000 extra members of staff would be needed to support people in their own community and that these staff needed to be trained and equipped for the task.

Sir Stephen added that with at least 1,300 people expected to move out of hospital care by 2019, there was a “critical need” to deliver housing for the vulnerable.

His report called for housing for people with learning disabilities to be exempt from proposed Housing Benefit caps, and provided details how additional housing provision might be delivered.

On his proposal for a Learning Disabilities Commissioner, Sir Stephen said: “Just as a Children’s Commissioner was established following the Victoria Climbie Inquiry, there is a firm argument for establishing this post. It would have a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all people with learning disabilities and their families.

“I have spoken directly to people whose experience of these services goes back far beyond 2011 and Winterbourne View. So this report expresses the views and experiences of the people most affected by change. I am still shocked by the way we as a society have condoned poor or abusive treatment of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“That's why I want a Commissioner.”

He added: “As recent revelations from Southern Health Trust have shown there’s still a long way to go before the system can be trusted, and we still have a long way to go in convincing people with learning disabilities that change will happen. I'm confident the base for change is now there. My further report makes proposals to ensure such change happens.”

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