Chrissy reading her Person-centred Plan
Since Winterbourne the Government has set up an action plan called a ‘'Joint Improvement Programme' to support local areas to provide ‘swift and sustainable action to ensure that services are personalised, safe and local.’ They want to move people out of assessment and treatment units and back into the community but our experiences demonstrate that the infrastructure just isn’t there. These individuals often have very complex needs and there are too many barriers in place that limit their chances of ending up in successful community placements.
Last Wednesday I was grateful for the opportunity to tell Chris Bull MP, who is the head of the team implementing the Joint Improvement Programme, about the barriers that Chrissy is facing.
Firstly, the team need to examine barriers that cause community-based placements to break down in the first place.
Ordinary Residence and Continuing Healthcare disputes: When we moved to Hampshire in 2003, Chrissy’s care management responsibility wasn't transferred correctly, and her care was still managed by a council based 80 miles away. She has never had a local social worker. The arguments between this council and our local PCT led to gaps in case management and poor continuity of care. The problems escalated when Chrissy’s condition deteriorated, which led to an emergency move to a residential home in a different county. I believe that the funding dispute played a key part in Chrissy’s admission onto the unit in the first place because the PCT did not accept that she had a primary health need and she was denied appropriate treatment. For example, until Chrissy entered the unit our attempts to get a second opinion on her medication were continually blocked.
Lack of a cohesive multi-displinary approach and inadequate medical support: Whenever Chrissy went through crisis periods in the community, opinion was divided between her family, staff and the local learning disability team as everyone struggled to cope. Chrissy is described as having challenging behaviours and highly complex needs but this only scratches the surface. For example, her epilepsy, extreme behavioural reactions to medication and history of life-threatening blood count problems made managing even small medication changes in the community very tricky. However, there was little infrastructure to support care staff, who frequently reported that they felt out of their depth. In the last community where Chrissy lived there was no acute service from the local learning disability team, which meant that when she was going through a crisis period, she wasn’t able to access an emergency appointment with her psychiatrist. In our experience learning disability teams need to use a more person-centred approach and listen to families more. Parents usually know their child’s medical history better than anyone. It hasn’t helped our situation that medical records are missing from Chrissy's two most crucial hospital stays.
Frequent home moves: Since we moved to Hampshire 10 years ago, Chrissy has moved home four times. Inadequate infrastructure in the community resulted in her eviction from a care home in 2008. Most residential care homes are privately run, which makes already vulnerable people even more vulnerable. Who would have thought that people with learning disabilities in privately-run care homes have fewer rights than the average tenant? We discovered this cruel injustice in 2009 when Chrissy was given 28 days’ notice after an incident that had resulted from a clear failure on the part of others to provide for her at her level of need and risk. Chrissy had no rights and was offered no representation at the POVA meetings held regarding the incident.
Cost and complexity of accessing local housing: Cost is the biggest barrier to moving Chrissy into a successful community placement and this is probably the case with many other vulnerable adults. Yet it would be far cheaper to get it right in the first place than to keep someone for more than three years in an assessment and treatment unit. The government has long been committed to the idea of care in the community – but whose community? If the individual’s family lives in an area where housing is more costly to rent or buy than average – tough! Last year the commissioners said that they would set up the ‘bespoke’ service that Chrissy needs and would be looking to engage with a Registered Social Landlord to buy a property off the open market. They then advised us that Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of rents in our locality. Also Housing Benefit is calculated on a per person basis and Chrissy needs a sleep-in carer, which means two bedrooms. She is disadvantaged because she will have to meet the rent payment on her own and Housing Benefit won’t cover it.
We looked at buying Chrissy a house ourselves and renting it to her but there are new, confusing barriers in place there too. Shared ownership schemes were another option we explored but there was nothing available in our locality. All the different housing options are incredibly complicated and it’s another field, along with understanding how Decision Support Tools and Ordinary Residence work, that family carers have to become experts in as we are left to do most of the research. A friend looked at me in disbelief when I told her that doing all this for Chrissy is like having another job but that's how it is, especially during transitions like this move from the unit. I need an expert to guide me through the different options as it’s such a maze - and the rules keep changing! It’s unfortunate timing for us – the recent cuts and policy changes seem to have blocked all our avenues for accessing appropriate housing in the community.
We’ve explored private sector lease management through Registered Social Landlords that only sublet to disabled tenants but the rents they charge are way too high to be covered by Housing Benefit. Chrissy’s claim should be ‘exempt’ or excluded from the ordinary rules that cap Housing Benefit but the calculations that we’ve been given still fall short and the commissioners have told us that the only way we could access Registered Social Landlords is through renting from the council as it would be more affordable.
Unfortunately, we've yet to find any local social housing that will meet Chrissy’s complex needs. Most of the two-bed properties that she’s eligible for are flats in confined areas with either no garden or communal gardens. Chrissy can disrobe, thrash about and make lots of noise for prolonged periods when she's distressed. These challenging behaviours would be seen as a nuisance in a confined or overlooked area and could cause her, at best to be shunned, at worst, evicted - her previous eviction was due to the impact of her behaviour on other people she lived with.
The commissioners argue that we'd have more options if we were to consider a wider area and that Chrissy doesn’t need to live locally because the Campus Project (the move from long-stay hospitals over 20 years ago) ‘moved people with a variety of highly complex needs and they have successfully built community links.’ Really? That's quite a generalising claim and hard to prove. Given Chrissy’s challenging behaviour, limited abilities and autism, she would struggle to build community relationships and take part in local social activities in an unfamiliar area, even with the best of carers. There should always be compelling reasons for sending any individual with a learning disability out of area, and Ian and I believe that, due to her condition, if a single service supported living setup is going to work, Chrissy will need to be as close as possible to family support. As detailed in her Person-centred Plan, her family relationships are important to her, and are the only enduring ones she has. She lives for her visits home, which could be built in to her everyday life if she lived locally. We would also be on hand to provide back-up in emergencies.
Chrissy has been staying at her family home once a week for the past 10 years since we moved to Hampshire but when a rare opportunity for her to move into local social housing came up, she was denied it. If, as we'd requested, the discharge planning process had started earlier she may have been moved to a higher priority banding in time but in fact it's only happened in the last couple of weeks. We were also told by a Housing Officer that Chrissy wasn’t eligible because she hadn’t lived in the locality full-time, which seems unjust considering that, given the ability to express her preferences, Chrissy would have chosen to live locally from the start. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that she's 28 and needs as much independence as possible for someone with her level of functioning, but the community near her family home is the only one, other than the unit, that she knows. People recognise her and stop to chat when I take her to the small local shop. Large supermarkets with their fluorescent lighting, crowds and vast array of goods, such as those in urban areas, flood Chrissy's senses and can cause her to erupt into prolonged screaming, self-injurious outbursts.
Good GP support is also crucial. When Chrissy was a child we lived in an urban area and our local surgery was large with a high turnover of staff. Chrissy’s GP didn’t know who she was when we called him out on an emergency. Here, our local GP knows our family and is aware of Chrissy's rare condition.
Moving Chrissy to an unfamiliar urban community is likely to cause her immense distress and result in a deterioration in her behaviour. Any move is going to be stressful for her as we’ve seen in the past. Chrissy’s condition makes her react in extreme ways to any small changes in her medication or her environment. An inappropriate move could put the whole supported living setup in jeopardy and she could end up back on the unit.
We don’t want Chrissy to be institutionalised but, frankly, she would be safer and happier staying in the small supportive community at the hospital where people know her and like her than living in the midst of a large, unfamiliar environment with neighbours that could view her as a nuisance.
I support Unique http://www.rarechromo.co.uk/html/home.asp and I am a SWAN UK (Syndromes without a Name) blogger