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Patterns of service use among people with learning disabilities discharged from long-stay hospital care in Northern Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

Michael Donnelly
Health and Social Care Research Unit, Queen's University Belfast, Mulhouse Building, Institute of Clinical Science, Grosvenor Road, Belfast BT12 6BJ, Northern Ireland


Objectives: Continuing deinstitutionalisation has led to growing concern about the availability and accessibility of services for people with learning disabilities transferring to community living. This study was undertaken in order to assess the configuration of services in terms of availability and uptake for people with learning disabilities who have left long-stay hospital care and to identify gaps or barriers to service provision within the unique integrated health and social services structure in Northern Ireland.

Method: The ‘keyworkers’ of 195 people – most of whom were aged 40-59 years with a diagnosis of moderate intellectual impairment – were interviewed by a researcher one year after discharge using the Service Interview.

Results: While a wide range of generic and specialist services was available, ‘packages’ of care consisted largely of public sector services (eg. GPs, chiropodists and social workers) and relied, to some extent, on the type of community accommodation. Although services appeared well co-ordinated in terms of care reviews and keyworker arrangements, 40% of people required more one-to-one support particularly in areas related to integration. However, services were perceived by care staff to be satisfactory

Conclusions: The development of community care has been slower in Northern Ireland than elsewhere and a large proportion of resources remain tied up in hospital care. However, existing community-based services appear to be addressing individual needs. Some former patients, though, may have been subject to transinstitutionalisation in the sense that their choice of accommodation was restricted mainly to large private sector homes and work and daytime opportunities were insufficient to facilitate integration. Service planners and providers need to give further consideration to the likely effects of different forms of rehabilitation, reprovision and resettlement and to be aware that the pattern of service provision is likely to be different for the more dependent cohorts of people who leave hospital in the future.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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