Belfast Telegraph

Long-stay patient figures revealed

A total of 350 patients in Northern Ireland have been in hospital for more than two years, it was revealed.

Almost nine out of 10 were admitted with mental health or learning disability problems, the Department of Health said.

Minister Edwin Poots wants to encourage more care in the community, which can reduce the cost of treatment and encourage people to be more independent.

Almost six out of 10 of those in hospital long term were registered with a GP.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: "The fact that people are in hospital for a long time and are never seen by their GPs means it is almost like double funding.

"This exposes some inefficiencies in relation to the management of the health service.

"Surely it is something the minister should have an interest in?"

Mr Poots told Ms Kelly in a written answer that information on the cost per patient to the health service, for patients who have been in hospital for more than two years, was not readily available and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

At the beginning of last month, 350 patients had been in hospital for more than two years.

A total of 139 had a mental health condition and 171 had learning difficulties. A further 18 were elderly and 22 had an acute condition such as brain injury, the minister said.

A recent report from a patients' lobby group claimed one person with severe learning difficulties was forced to use a toothbrush to clean floors at a hospital.

In 1995, the department said all long-stay hospital patients should be moved into the community. But targets have been missed, according to the report.

The latest official target date for resettlement in appropriate places in the community is March 2015. Primary targets are those patients who were resident in a mental health or learning disability hospital for a year or more in March 2007.

There are an estimated 16,366 people - nearly 1% of the population - with a learning disability in Northern Ireland. More than a quarter have severe or profound disability.

Disabilities include a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, or to learn new skills, with a reduced ability to cope independently.

A report by the Patient Client Council into the patients' conditions highlighted lack of freedom and choice, little privacy and in some cases, isolation. It also noted support provided by staff.

A department spokeswoman said: "The Health and Social Care Board and Trust continue to work with various organisations to resettle all those patients currently in long-stay learning disability hospitals.

"The needs of each patient, however, are fully assessed and placement options are discussed with them and other family members.

"The aim is to identify the most appropriate placement with all the necessary support as expeditiously as possible and irrespective of targets."

The Ulster Unionist Party has proposed an international centre of excellence for mental health on the site of the former Maze prison near Lisburn. It followed the DUP's decision to pull out of a deal to build a peace and reconciliation centre on the site amid deteriorating relations with Sinn Fein.

Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of post-traumatic stress disorder levels in the world following 30 years of conflict.

But Mr Poots insisted a building alone did not create world-class services.

Responding to the Stormont debate, he said: "The days of the big, old asylums are over; they are gone and I won't build anything which is akin to that facility again."

Maeve Hully, Patient and Client Council chief executive, said: "People with a learning disability would like the implementation of the ministerial target for resettlement to be completed as quickly as possible.

"People with a learning disability prefer to live in the community and have told us they have experienced greater freedom, choice and independence since leaving hospital."

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