Council fears as changes to care of people with disabilities could see reduction in hospital beds

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

Councillors have raised concerns about planned changes to the way Hartlepool people with learning difficulties and complex needs are cared for.

The North East and Cumbria is one of five fast-track areas in the country for the development of the Transforming Care programme.

Councillor Lesley Hamilton

Councillor Lesley Hamilton

It will result in a systematic closure of learning disability inpatient hospital beds over the next five years.

Following the Winterbourne View scandal, which saw a number of people jailed for the abuse of disabled people at a private hospital near Bristol, the Government pledged to move all people with learning disabilities and/or autism inappropriately placed in such institutions into community care.

But members of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Adult Services Committee raised concerns about the way the programme is being developed locally.

Councillor Lesley Hamilton said: “I’m not really convinced by it, in fact I’m very worried about the impact to families.

“Having worked in learning disabilities and worked with people with quite severe behavioural difficulties and physical problems as well, for these families these services are a lifeline and I think they are really going to be shortchanged.”

Jill Harrison, the council’s director of adult and community based services, said: “The reduction in inpatient beds can only be achieved safely if there are alternatives available within the community for people.

“There are a shortage of places in the community that are able to meet those complex needs.”

Ms Harrison added that while just over £2m funding has been allocated from NHS England, the cost of caring for people in the community is expected to be a lot higher than in hospitals.

Coun Stephen Thomas, chair of the Adult Services Committee, said it supported the principle of moving to care in the community but added: “It has got to be properly financed.”

NHS Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS South Tees CCG recently consulted on respite care as part of the Transforming Care programme.

It could see beds at facilities in Normanby or Stockton replaced with other services. A spokesman said: “All of that feedback is currently being independently analysed and will be crucial in helping the CCGs make an informed decision about the future of learning disability services across Teesside.”