In the ongoing debate about the Transforming Care programme in England, a distinction is often made between inpatient services described as Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and inpatient services variously described as secure and/or forensic. The argument sometimes follows from this that Transforming Care should be focused on reducing/closing the number of ATU places (largely commissioned by CCGs), because secure/forensic inpatient services (largely commissioned by NHS England specialist commissioning teams) are always going to be needed for some people with learning disabilities and/or autism. Personally, I’m not sure such a sharp distinction is possible, desirable, represents reality, or necessarily means that we need the amount of secure/forensic inpatient services that exists today.
In this blogpost I want to describe the range of inpatient services that exist, using Assuring Transformation data collated and analysed by NHS Digital. The Assuring Transformation dataset presents ongoing monthly information about inpatient services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, collected from health service commissioners. While I think it under-represents the total number of people with learning disabilities and/or autism using inpatient services (see here for why), it does contain a lot of valuable detail about inpatient services and the people within them. As well as describing these services, I’m also interested in any clues we can find to support the distinction between ATUs and secure/forensic services.
The first graph below shows the number of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in different types of inpatient service (as labelled in the Assuring Transformation dataset), for March 2015, December 2015, May 2016 and November 2016. In November 2016, the most common type of inpatient service was ‘secure forensic’, containing (a word I use advisedly) around half of all people within the Assuring Transformation dataset (1,725 people, 50.6%). ‘Acute learning disability’ services (in effect ATUs) contained 460 people (18.3%), followed by complex care/rehabilitation services (330 people; 13.1%). ‘Forensic rehabilitation’ services weighed in with 120 people (4.8%), 155 people (6.2%) were in ‘acute generic mental illness’ inpatient services, and a further 180 people (7.1%) were in inpatient services described as ‘other specialist’ or ‘other’. The extent to which some of these esoteric distinctions between service types is meaningful, particularly to the people placed within them, is a question there to be asked, I think.
While the overall trend is pretty flat, from March 2015 to November 2016 it looks like there are some trends over time for some specific types of inpatient service. The use of acute generic mental illness, complex care/rehabilitation, and other inpatient services seems to be increasing, while the use of forensic rehabilitation and other specialist inpatient services seems to be decreasing. Trends for the most common types of inpatient service over time, secure forensic and acute learning disability, are unclear.
Another way of looking at the nature of inpatient services is to look at the security level of the places where people with learning disabilities and/or autism are put, as in the graph below. In November 2016, nearly half of people (1,195 people; 47.3%) in inpatient services were in ‘general’ (i.e. not secure) inpatient services, and a small number of people (50 people; 2.0%) were in PICUs (Psychiatric Intensive Care Units, which are secure). Well over another quarter of people (740 people; 29.3%) were in low secure services, 475 people (18.8%) were in medium secure units, and another relatively small number of people (65 people; 2.6%) were in high secure services.
Over the relatively short period of time reported in these statistics, the number of people in low secure services seemed to be decreasing, while the number of people in general (not secure) and medium secure services seemed to be increasing.
The next graph below shows the legal status of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in inpatient services. In November 2016, 250 people (9.9%) were in inpatient services ‘informally’, i.e. not legally detained under Section according to the Mental Health Act (MHA). Around half of people (1,720 people; 50.4%) were detained under Part II of the Mental Health Act (compulsory admission to hospital, usually for assessment and/or treatment). A further 355 people (14.1%) were detained under the more serious Part III of the Mental Health Act (but without restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Justice), and almost a quarter of people (595 people; 23.6%) were detained under Part III of the Mental Health Act with restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Justice. Part III of the Mental Health Act involves ‘patients concerned in criminal proceedings or under sentence’. Finally, a small number of people (50 people; 2.0%) were detained using other parts of the Mental Health Act.
Over time, the number of people ‘informally’ in inpatient services has decreased, while patterns for people legally detained under various sections of the Mental Health Act over time are unclear.
So far this post has shown the types of inpatient service that people are in, their levels of security, and the legal status of people within them. All of these show a very diverse picture. Are there any clues about whether services that are more secure/forensic are clearly different from services that are less secure?
The Assuring Transformation data analysis offers a couple of hints. The first is in the graph below, which shows for November 2016 the legal status of people within inpatient services at different levels of security. If more secure/forensic services are doing the job claimed for them, we would expect most people within them to be under Part III sections. We would also expect general/low secure inpatient services not to have people under Part III sections (particularly those with Ministry of Justice restrictions), as services at this level of security shouldn’t be able to manage people with these apparent levels of ‘risk’.
The graph below does show that medium and high secure services do largely contain people sectioned under Part II and Part III of the Mental Health Act. Low secure units have a similar profile to more secure units, although the numbers of people in low secure units are greater overall (there are as many people in low secure units under Part III sections with restrictions as there are in medium and high secure units combined). Even general inpatient units, while weighted more towards people there ‘informally’ or with Part II sections, still contain substantial numbers of people with Part III sections, both without restrictions (80 people) and with restrictions (120 people).
This information certainly shows that most people under Part III sections are in general/low secure services (600 people) rather than medium/high secure services (350 people). Is this because there aren’t enough medium/high secure inpatient services and they are desperately needed, or is it because less restrictive options are possible (most importantly, outside inpatient services altogether)?
One final graph below in this graphtastic post – the security level of inpatient services by the total continuous length of time people have spent in inpatient services (including being transferred between them). While this post so far has been about the claims to specialism of secure inpatient services, this final graph speaks to the ‘assessment and treatment’ claims of non-secure ‘acute’ learning disability inpatient services. If that is what these services do, why on earth are there 350 people in general (non-)secure units (29.3% of people in general non-secure units) who have been in inpatient services for 5 or more years? Why are there a further 405 people (33.9% of people) who have been in general non-secure inpatient services for a year or more? Or, to put it another way, why are nearly half of all people who have been in inpatient services for 10 years or more (175 out of 370 people; 47.3%) in general (non-)secure inpatient services, if they represent such a terrible risk?
Overall, it really doesn’t look like the different parts of the learning disability inpatient service complex are highly specialist and set up to deal effectively with different groups of people with different problems. Looks like we need assessment and treatment of the complex inpatient service system itself – why is the challenging behaviour of this system so persistent? A first start would be to ask what functions does this system serve, and for whom? Cui bono?