After a new minister, a new national director, a consultation and a healthcare investigation, the government’s learning disability plans are finally with us. But can they make a real difference?
In December 2007 the Department of Health published its Valuing People Now consultation. In an attempt to revive the flagging 2001 Valuing People white paper, the public consultation sought views on what the priorities should be for learning disability services.
After a series of delays, the Department of Health finally published its delivery plan on 19 January. Valuing People Now: A New Three-Year Strategy for people with learning disabilities sets out the government's vision for learning disability services in England until 2011.
The original Valuing People made big promises and was widely welcomed. However, while its vision was sound, some argued that it lacked the legislative backbone to see all of its recommendations carried out to their full potential.
At Learning Disability Today in November 2008, national director for learning disabilities, Anne Williams, summed up the responses to the Valuing People Now consultation. "Above all, people want us to make it happen everywhere, which it hasn't, and for everyone, which it hasn't," she said.
Recent years have seen a number of high-profile abuse cases – notably Budock Hospital and Steven Hoskin – draw attention to learning disability services. There has also been a hugely increased focus on the personalisation.
The consultation on Valuing People Now closed at the end of March 2008, with more than 10,200 people contributing to responses. So, now that the delivery plan is finally with us, what does it say and, more importantly, do?
The delivery plan takes a human rights-based approach. It aims to address the needs of groups who are often excluded, including those with more complex needs and those from black and minority ethnic communities.
Mencap has welcomed the plans. However, Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said: "This will all be futile if government departments do not work together and back up their proposals with the right level of funding."