In May 2011, the BBC broadcast a shocking documentary highlighting the plight of those living in Winterbourne View, a long-stay hospital in Bristol.

The documentary was a wake-up call, highlighting the lack of high quality care, close to home, for too many people with learning disabilities. The care sector and the Government alike called for immediate action and a timetable was set for moving the 3,376 people with learning disabilities then living in inpatient units out and into more appropriate placements and support within their local communities.

1st June 2014 was the deadline that was set for achieving that goal. Sadly however that target will now not be met, as was made clear yesterday by the Care Minister, Norman Lamb MP, who described the shelving of the target as an “abject failure”.

Our infographic published today shows the scale of the issue and suggests reasons why the target has been missed. It highlights that in December 2013, a staggering 3,250 people with learning disabilities were still residing in long-stay hospitals; only 126 fewer people than at the time of Winterbourne View. And of those remaining in inpatient care, only 22 percent have a date set for their transfer to a new, more suitable, placement.

An interview outlining the failings at Winterbourne View.

The reasons why there are no discharge plans in place for the other 2536 people vary, as our infographic shows. “Clinical reasons” is by far the most common issue stated. Whilst there may well be sound clinical issues for delaying the transfer of some individuals, it surely must be questioned whether clinical matters really make the transfer to a community setting impossible for all 31 percent for whom this is cited.

Figures published earlier this week by the Health and Social Care Information Centre highlight the over-medication of people with learning disabilities still residing in hospitals and specialist units; an issue which reinforces, once again, the inappropriate use of such care settings and the urgency of the situation.

So, if the need is so urgent and so many people involved in providing and creating care services for people with learning disabilities want things to change, why hasn’t it happened? A piece published on Community Care’s website this week and written by United Response’s Practice Development Team, suggests some of the reasons for the lack of progress from complex bureaucracy through to uncertainty over accountability and fear of failure.

The piece also suggests the need for organisations that have supported people whose behaviour challenges to make the move from long-stay institutions to a community setting, to openly share their knowledge, about what works and what doesn’t so that others may benefit from their learning.

It is to this end that United Response has recently published a new resource entitled ‘Transforming Care - New Referral Checklist’. We hope that by sharing our learning on supporting people to move back to their local communities, it will encourage others to do likewise, and that this in turn will lead to all those people with learning disabilities still living in inpatient settings finally being given the opportunity they deserve to lead full lives back in their local communities.

Three years ago a promise was made to bring an end to the inappropriate placement of people with learning disabilities in long-stay hospitals. Timetables may need to be rewritten, but we must all stay true to that pledge. The lives of those 3,250 people still remaining in inpatient care are the responsibility of all of us.

Sarah Bartlett, head of press.