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Landmark victory for long stay patients

Muckamore Abbey Hospital by Brian Shaw www.geograph.com

In a landmark judgement on 31 January 2013, the High Court established the obligation on the DHSSPS and of health and social care trusts to complete regular assessments of need for people who require community care services in Northern Ireland.

Justice McCloskey found that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust owed a legal duty to assess and review, on a regular basis, the community care needs of long stay residents in learning disability hospitals.

The Law Centre had brought the case on behalf of a patient who had waited more than ten years to move out of a learning disability hospital and into the community.

'We wanted to establish the extent of the Department's and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust's duties to assess and review community care needs in compliance with the People First Guidance and work towards resettling people with a learning disability in the community,' said Law Centre (NI) Mental Health Legal Adviser Catherine Harper. 'We hope this judgment gives fresh impetus to progress towards resettlement in the community for those still living in long stay hospitals.'

Welcoming the ruling, Maureen Piggott, Mencap's Northern Ireland Director, commented: 'Mencap welcomes today's decision and congratulates Law Centre (NI) for taking and winning this important case. People with a learning disability and their families need this strong advocacy.'

She added: 'Today's judgement will help to ensure that the needs of people with a learning disability in the future are properly assessed and met. It strengthens the position of those who are still waiting to move out of learning disability hospitals, but also those who need additional support to live with their family, or in their own homes in the community.'

Les Allamby, Law Centre (NI) Director, said: 'The ruling in this case should ensure that no-one should remain forgotten by the health and social care system. We believe that with the right support people in Muckamore Hospital can live independently in the community.'

'Campaigning by Muckamore hospital residents and this court action have ensured that the voice of people with a learning disability has been heard. Northern Ireland Executive's First Programme for Government included a key goal that by 2013* anyone with a mental health problem or learning disability is promptly and suitably treated in the community and no one remains unnecessarily in hospital. We hope this judgment will ensure that this target becomes a reality and that adults in Northern Ireland no longer have a hospital as their permanent address,' he added.

* This target has since been revised to 2015.

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