The Healthcare Commission is inspecting 48 specialist inpatient learning disability services to examine progress made following a national audit that uncovered 'unacceptable' variations in quality.

Services will be given 24 hours' notice of visits, which start this week. Most inspections will be at services not covered by the 2007 audit, but 10 services will receive follow-up visits.

Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said: "The audit painted a bleak picture of specialist healthcare services for people with a learning disability."

She hoped the follow-ups would keep the spotlight on those services "so we can look back on this time as a turning point for people with a learning disability".

National trends

Reports for each visit and a summary of national themes and trends will be published on the commission's website early next year.

Eight specialist learning disability services for adolescents were included in the first audit. The report, published today, said young people needed more independence and control over their lives. Services needed to do more to help them live independently, for example supporting them to shop for groceries, make meals or manage their money.

But service users were generally safe, protected from abuse, had their health needs met and were well supported by staff, inspectors found.