Target to resettle long-stay patients with learning disabilities may not be met
Efforts to resettle all long-stay hospital patients with learning disabilities in Northern Ireland by next summer may not succeed, the regulator warned.
They were supposed to be discharged into nursing homes or other community-based facilities by last March.
Earlier this year, 68 patients were delayed in exiting hospital, 29 from Belfast Trust and 39 from the other trust areas in Muckamore Abbey Hospital, according to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).
The report said: "Despite numerous targets being set by the Health and Social Care Board, the resettlement target of all long stay patients leaving learning disability hospitals by June 2017 may not be achieved."
Estimates suggest that there are around 13,000 adults with a learning disability in Northern Ireland, and it is anticipated that this figure will increase over the coming years, particularly those with more complex needs.
The review team found staff were generally familiar with services they were not standardised across the five health and social care trusts.
In 1997, the Department of Health set a target that all patients in long-stay learning disability hospitals would be resettled by 2002.
However, by that time, only half of patients had been discharged , a previous audit said.
In subsequent years, various deadlines have been set and continually revised, primarily due to lack of resources for alternative provision.
The RQIA said around 12% of the total investment provided by the Health and Social Care Board, to trusts for mental health services, was spent in specialist hospitals, notably Muckamore Abbey Hospital which serves three trusts with total costs of £22.4 million.
The Board reported commissioning 218 beds in 2013-2014 across the region, which gives a cost per bed of £158,940.
The review said: "However the number of beds should reduce as the resettlement of long stay patients continues, although it is not yet complete."
It said trusts are continuing to work with patients who refuse to leave hospital despite a number of placements being identified.
Placements are provided mostly in nursing homes or other group living arrangements.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "On 1 April, 24 learning disability patients and 23 mental health patients from the Priority Target List of long-stay patients were still waiting to be resettled (the comparable figure was 819 patients in April 2007).
"Those remaining patients are individuals with more complex conditions and behaviours and the delay in resettling is due to the completion of specialist placements being customised to the patients' individual needs, predominantly within new supported living and nursing/residential developments.
"The Department continues to progress the resettlement of patients.
"A great deal of work is required to establish the most suitable placement with the right level of support to suit their specific individual needs.
"The emphasis is on getting it right for the patient and ensuring their safety and care, and this must be the key priority."