• Commissioners must visit vulnerable patients placed in out of area hospitals at least every two months
  • Arrangements must also be made for a “host commissioner” to over-see local inpatient units
  • CCGs which fail mental health funding rules must make up the shortfall in 2020-21

Commissioners must carry out regular visits to patients with learning disabilities or autism who are sent to out of area hospitals, NHS England has said.

New requirements set out in formal planning guidance for 2020-21 say children should be visited every six weeks, and adults every eight weeks.

The guidance, published today, also said arrangements must be made for a local “host commissioner” to take responsibility for the oversight of local learning disability inpatient units.

The “host commissioner” will have a responsibility for patients placed in facilities in its local patch.

However, the newly required visits are the responsibility of the clinical commissioning group which funds their out of area care — which are often based many miles away — a spokeswoman for NHS England has confirmed. 

It comes amid increasing concerns over the safety of inpatient learning disability units. In its State of Care report, published last October, the Care Quality Commission, highlighted the care of people with learning disabilities and autism as one of its biggest concerns.

In response to the rising concerns, NHS England also set up a task-force charged with improving inpatient mental health, learning disability and autism services for children and young people. This is being led by John Lawlor, chief executive of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust.

Later this year the national commissioner is expected to publish a dashboard for learning disabilities services, similar to the quarterly dashboard it publishes for mental health services.

Mental Health

At the beginning of 2019-20, NHS England said every clinical commissioning group would have to have an audit carried out into their claims made against the mental health investment standard.

The investment standard requires CCGs to increase spending on mental health services by more than their overall growth in funding.

CCGs have now been told in today’s guidance that — if their audit reveals they have not met the mental health investment standard for 2019-20 — they will need to make up the shortfall in 2020-21.

Audits were supposed to have completed by November 2019, however NHS England pushed this deadline back.