A new report has suggested that it should be considered essential to appoint a commission related to the rights of people with learning disabilities in England.
The suggestion is also made in the report that it could be necessary for some care homes to close.
Sir Stephen Bubb, who has been reviewing the sector since the abuse scandal at Winterbourne View home, stated he had been shocked by stories of the treatment of people with learning disabilities that he considered to be “intolerable”.
It has been reported that the government is now assessing the recommendations from the report, as it considers how to act.
The BBC’s Panorama programme had previously uncovered serious patient abuse and neglect at the Winterbourne View private hospital, near Bristol, back in 2011.
Sir Stephen – who is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations – had been appointed by NHS England to examine the best way to address “serious shortcomings” in the support for those with learning disabilities.
Technical recommendations were then reported in the published report – Winterbourne View – Time for Change – in November 2014.
Yet Bubb now believe that there has been an “absence of any tangible progress”.
Commenting on the current situation in the UK, Bubb indicated that learning disabilities are not being dealt with effectively.
“I have been really shocked by what I have heard about seclusion, around over-medication, around the use of physical restraint. It’s an intolerable way to treat people with learning disabilities. The right place for people is with their families and in the community, supported properly.”
In addition, Bubb also indicated that closing institutions may be a significant part of an overall strategy, but it is also essential to address how society treats people in both education and health systems.
“That’s why my major recommendation today is for the establishment of a commissioner for learning disabilities – someone who will drive and act as an advocate for change and for making more progress.”
And one of the main recommendations made by the report is the instigation of a commissioner position, intended to both protect and promote the rights of learning-disabled people in the UK.
Some 3,500 vulnerable disabled people are still in institutions according to Bubb’s latest report, which is over 30% more than was considered to be the case.
Bubb cited the precedent of previous enquiries into different health areas, suggesting that a commissioner could make a massive contribution to learning disabilities.
“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.”
Student nurses and midwives could be forced to fund their own education under a scheme currently being considered by the government.
The new Treasury plans would see these critical NHS workers being forced to pay their tuition fees and living costs, if proposals currently being assessed by the government come to fruition.
This will be a particularly worrying precedent for many concerned about the state of the health service, considering the fact that there is already a shortage of nurses in the NHS.
Indeed, it is often argued that the health service is one of the biggest beneficiaries of migrant labour of any organisation in the United Kingdom.
This certainly applies to doctors, physicians and surgeons, but also to nursing staff as well.
Due to the relatively small numbers of qualified nurses among the UK population, hospitals have frequently resorted to paying up to £2,200 per shift for locum staff, with thousands more being recruited from abroad.
And many people applying to train as nurses in the UK are currently turned away, with three times as many applicants as funded places, figures indicate.
Nonetheless, the government is apparently pressing on with the assessment of plans to compel student nurses and midwives to pay tuition fees and living costs.
The Councils of Deans of Health and Universities UK have already submitted plans to the government’s spending review.
This critical document is due to be published next month, and seemingly seeks to axe the existing system of free education completely.
All bursaries will be scrapped completely, replaced by a loan system. Tuition fees would also be introduced, and these would have to be funded by student applicants.
Many people will be extremely critical of the government scheme, viewing it as merely another opportunity for the financial sector and private equity to gain a valuable source of revenue.
Considering the importance of nurses within the NHS, and the obvious gulf between the required number and existing qualified individuals, putting such a significant barrier in the way of qualification will surely exacerbate the problem.
Critics will suggest that this scheme rather grates with the rhetoric that has issued forth from the government in recent weeks and months about the importance of the NHS in general.
Already nursing and midwifery unions have spoken out about the proposed changes.
The complaints of the largest nursing unions in the country indeed seem rather plausible, and are focused on the suggestion that many potential entrants will be deterred, particularly those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
With nursing already attracting a relatively meagre starting salary, the prospect of large debts will doubtless be viewed as a millstone by many potential applicants.
Tom Sandford, director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing raised concerns that such changes could put potential nurses off entering training completely.
“Financial hardship is the top reason nursing students drop out, and the full time demands of the course make it very difficult for nursing students to earn extra money while they are training,” Sandford said.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Midwives claimed that the plans risked worsening a shortage of 2,600 midwives.