The call for an audit was made by Disability News Service (DNS) after last week’s publication of a serious case review (SCR) into the “appalling and systematically brutal” abuse that took place at Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning difficulties.
The SCR criticised the practice of sending people with learning difficulties to institutions far from their home areas.
John Pring, editor of DNS, first suggested a national audit in 2003, and repeated the call last year in his book Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal, which details his 17-year investigation into the institutional abuse of adults with learning difficulties at the Longcare homes in Buckinghamshire.
In the book, he raises concerns that thousands of people with learning difficulties appear to have been sent to live in institutions hundreds of miles from their original homes.
Many of these people were former patients of the old long-stay hospitals that began to be closed in the 1980s, and were simply abandoned in their new homes, which were often so far away from where they had been brought up that they received no visits, either from social workers or family members.
Many campaigners and social care professionals share these concerns, and believe such placements have put people at much higher risk of abuse, as was the case with Winterbourne View.
The call for a national audit was backed by Dame Philippa Russell, a member of the independent inquiry into the Longcare scandal, chair of the Standing Commission on Carers, and a former commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission, who has a son with learning difficulties.
She says in the book that there is a “desperate” need for national evidence of “what is actually happening” with out-of-area placements.
Neither the Care Quality Commission (CQC) nor the Department of Health (DH) was prepared to comment on the need for a national audit when DNS approached them last year.
CQC admitted at the time that it had no idea how many people had been abandoned in placements far from home, a question, it said, that was “not easy to answer with available data”.
But this week, following the Winterbourne View SCR, CQC said that, although the issue of out-of-area placements was “a matter for the Department of Health and commissioning bodies… we do believe an audit of the provision of out-of-area care would be a good idea”.
A CQC spokesman said its inspections of 150 services for people with learning difficulties, carried out after the Winterbourne View allegations were first aired last year, showed “too many people were in services away from their families and homes”.
He added: “We believe much remains to be done to ensure people with learning disabilities are provided with care in community settings close to their homes.”
A DH spokesman told DNS this week that the issue of out-of-area placements was under consideration but that he couldn’t pre-empt the department’s final report on Winterbourne View, expected later this year.