Mental Handicaps or Learning Disabilities – Does the Media really Care?

Emails to national Press  January 2018

NHS/Social Care Policy Dilemma/ Summary

Rarely has there been a greater need for transparency, rarely has there been such an extended cover up. There are estimated to be about 1.4 million people with learning disabilities of all levels of severity and complexity in the UK. Along with their carers, untold thousands of these people have suffered grievously from the policy vacuum brought about and extended over many years by individuals and organisations who were charged with protecting and supporting them.Where openness should have been encouraged it has been suppressed, where the truth could have given hope it has been distorted. What could have been developed into a rational, comprehensive, financially sound, and equitable national care in the community policy has disintegrated into a debacle. Handing responsibility for Social Care back to the NHS is not a solution – unless Jeremy Hunt recognises how incongruous this is and sets up a separate division entirely from the medical/surgical model. Otherwise, if a society is to be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens the UK will have failed abysmally.

Attached is a summary embracing the broad events of the past half a century. This is supported by a wealth of information and documentation accumulated over many years. It is not for sale, but is available free to any well-motivated investigative journalist who believes that justice for these people will not prevail until the controversial issues that brought about such scandals as Winterbourne View are debated openly in the public domain.                                     …………………….

In the 1950s/60s the ‘medical model’ was the order of the day – a combination of institutional care and medication – the ‘chemical cosh’, I believe it was termed. 50,000 adults and children were incarcerated in large 1000 plus institutions. The Health Service dominated responses to the needs of the learning disabilities section of our society Only about 4000 day care support places were available for those fortunate enough to remain in the community.

Now, in 2018, the NHS is again taking control of responding to the needs of people with learning disabilities, the principle of building large institutions has been approved by the government, and there is no clearly defined strategy for restoring meaningful day care.

The clock has turned back half a century yet there is hardly a bleat of protest. So, what has gone wrong?

In the 1960s it was accepted that the ‘medical model’ was a total failure and care in the community was the humane alternative. Through the efforts of Enoch Powell and humanitarian professional psychologists the process of enabling 50,000 people with all manners of challenging behaviour to escape from incarceration in institutions began in earnest. With only 4000 places being available at the time this was a mammoth task, the success of which is in no way appreciated today. Leading the way, dedicated Professor Alan Clarke, supported by his wife, Professor Ann Clarke, had by the mid-1970s encouraged and supported an extensive range of alternative options available for those in need of all levels of support and their carers.  By the mid-1980s there was still much to do but a policy strategy had been set up that could form the basis for the development of an equitable national policy. But it did not happen!

Why did this not happen? Simply because the direction and determination of policy was taken out of the hands of dedicated experts by a group of individuals who had their own agendas but were too inexperienced to recognise their own limitations. And so, began the descent into the morass that care in the community has become. For 30 years the government has been taking advice from the wrong people, and for 30 years service users and their carers, by default or intent, have been victims of the biggest corruption of service policy in social history.

Until the extent of the betrayal of trust by the organisations and individuals (major charities and academics) who should have been fighting for their rights has been exposed, nothing will change. The government will continue to take the wrong advice and those individuals and organisations who have their own agendas will continue to give it.

The NHS is a medical and surgical resource and needs to retain and consolidate its identity as such – that is what the massive surge to protect the NHS is rightly about. The overall needs of people with learning disabilities will not be taken into account – the NHS are not and never will be a social care resource.

Carers will not get a fair deal until their needs are responded to by a service structure that fully understands their problems. Giving responsibility for learning needs to local authorities in the first place was a disaster – to leave it with the NHS could be catastrophic. Until there is an appropriate Department with its own Minister nothing will change for the better.


Charles Henley

Author: charlesahenley

Following a varied career starting with 4 years as a city office worker, 4 years service in the RAF both as ground staff ad flying duties, 16 years working for IBM Time systems division as a service engineer, a short spell as a production line supervisor, before returning as service manager to another US business machines corporation who had taken over IBM Time systems division in the UK. The nature of this work brought into contact with day centre establishments for people with learning disabilities and in 1966 when radical and progressive policies were awakening I changed career direction. In the years that followed I worked for five different authorities at centres ranging in size from 24 to 190 attendees of all levels of ability and saw remarkably progressive policies being introduced in the first 20 years for the benefit of the attendees and their carers. Sadly, as a consequence of local authorities gaining full control of policy implementation from 1990 onwards, service support went into a spiral of decline that has made debacle of the rational principles of care in the community. There is now a vital need to take responsibility for service implementation away from local authorities and the NHS and grant it to a single service agency under the direction of its own Minister. Without an urgent change of direction, the current dire situation can only worsen.

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