Cawston Park deaths: More than a dozen Norfolk people in private hospitals
- Credit: The Bailey Family/Ben King's Family/Archant
More than a dozen Norfolk people with learning disabilities or autism are being cared for in private hospitals, which the author of a scathing report wants to see phased out.
Health bosses have insisted they are determined to reduce the number of people being cared for in such units - and that no concerns have been raised about the ones which are still being used.
The focus has fallen on the use of such hospitals after a serious case review into the deaths of three young people at Cawston Park hospital in Norfolk found patients had been overmedicated, excessively restrained and ill-treated, with concerns raised by families ignored.
Ben King, 32, Nicholas Briant, 33, and Joanna Bailey, 36, died within just over two years of each other while they were patients at the hospital, near Aylsham.
Margaret Flynn, the independent author of the report, had called for the government to end the country's reliance on hospitals driven by profit, warning: "Unless this hospital and similar units cease to receive public money, such lethal outcomes will persist".
Dr Flynn had overseen the inquiry into abuse at Winterbourne View private hospital, near Bristol a decade ago.
After that, the government promised to reduce the use of inpatient beds, but has missed targets to do so.
And new figures have revealed Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is paying for hospital placements for 14 Norfolk people with learning disabilities and/or autism, with half of those in non-NHS hospitals.
That is above the national target of 13, although three of them are on extended leave from their placements, so are living in the community at the moment.
And a further 17 are in specialist placements, funded and co-ordinated by NHS England. Six of those people are in private hospitals.
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The figures were revealed after questions asked by Labour county councillor Brenda Jones and independent county councillor Alexandra Kemp at a meeting of the council's Conservative-controlled cabinet this week.
Norfolk and Waveney CCG had funded the placement of Mr King, from Aylsham and previously admitted the oversight of care given to him was "not good enough".
CCG bosses said they were looking to reduce the use of in-patient beds in hospitals.
But they said, in the meantime, care and treatment reviews of the people the CCG commissioned care for took place every six months and were up to date.
They said in-person visits to the hospitals take place every eight weeks, with no concerns identified to date.
The CCG said it was focusing on the use of Astley Court, at Little Plumstead, near Norwich, which is NHS-run and rated outstanding.
But they said some highly specialised units were still needed where a person's clinical needs required that.
Cath Byford, chief nurse at the CCG, said: "The deaths of Joanna, Jon and Ben were tragic and entirely avoidable.
"We are committed to changing how we provide services for people with a learning disability, autism or both and preventing another person or family experiencing physical or emotional harm as a result of services that are ineffective or inadequate.
“We will achieve this by working closely with system partners, improving our oversight and quality monitoring arrangements and seeking innovation in how we commission services.
"We will also be working much more closely with patients, their families and carers so that we can ensure people with a learning disability, autism or both get the right support and their voice is clearly heard.
“Our aim is that people should only be cared for in a hospital when it is absolutely necessary.
"Where that is not possible we will do all in our power to ensure their stay in an inpatient setting is safe and for as short a period as possible.”
A spokesperson for the NHS in the East of England said: "Families and patients are included in the discussions about suitable safe care placements close to home, where possible.
"Providing high quality care and ensuring patients are supported is our priority, we expect high standards and do everything we can to ensure we commission and deliver a safe and caring service."
Cawston Park hospital has now closed down. The Jeesal Akman Care Corporation said the care the three received was "far below the standards we would have expected" and apologised.