ST Helens CCG has been told it must slash the number of patients with learning disabilities in long-term institutions by March 2019.

The target has been set by NHS England as part of Transforming Care Programme, borne out of the Winterbourne View hospital inquiry.

An undercover investigation by BBC Panorama in 2011 exposed abuse and neglect at Winterbourne View in Hambrook, South Gloucestershire.

The private, public-funded hospital was owned and operated by Castlebeck Care and was shut down just weeks after the footage aired.

In December 2012 the government pledged to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities in hospitals in the wake of the Winterbourne View abuse scandal.

The Transforming Care Programme is due to be completed by the end of March 2019.

The programme aims to transform care for people with learning disabilities and/or autism who have a mental illness or whose behaviour challenges services.

A report providing an update on the programme, which was brought before St Helens CCG’s governing body, revealed there are twelve service users detained in a number of locations both in and out of borough.

NHS England said this must be reduced to just four by March 2019, according to Prof Sarah O’Brien, the CCG’s chief accountable officer.

Prof O’Brien said: “Those that are still in, we’ve got good reasons why these people are still in where they are.

“They are undergoing treatment and they’re active, so in a way we can say they are where they need to be.

“One of the tensions here is, there’s been a decision nationally, a target set, that in St Helens, by March next year we would only have four.

“The number that we should have in institutions is four.”

Prof O’Brien said that since the investigation into the abuse the issue has fallen under the remit of the CCG’s chief nurse.

A dedicated commissioner also works closely on all of the individual cases within the borough.

However, Prof O’Brien said if the CCG does not make its target then it will be judged “poorly”, and claimed it was a “very political issue”.

She also said that NHS England stated in a recent meeting the governing body should be fully aware of all of the cases within the borough.

Currently they are not as they are dealt with by subcommittees.

Prof O’Brien said she is “assured” there are systems and processes in the CCG to “very robustly” oversee the issue.

She said: “I am assured as the accountable officer that I have got the right people working on this and that every case we have at the moment is where it needs to be.

“It is a risk for us whether we will get down to four, this figure we’re told it has to be. I think there is a risk.

“But it probably needs to keep coming to governing body.

“There’s a few areas of work that we’ve delegated to sub committees and it’s getting that balance right when our regulators are saying, governing body hasn’t been cited on that.”

Geoffrey Appleton, chairman of the governing body, said members need to be provided with a profile for each individual case so members can understand what the issues are.

Mr Appleton said: “Often they are the most complex cases who often require 24-7 supervision or support, often highly autistic or issues with those with severe brain injuries.

“I think it would be useful at some point if we did that.”

Prof O’Brien added: “It probably will help illustrate the complexity of these individuals and why it isn’t as easy to move some of these people out of where they are and into a different option, when you understand the complexity of some of the cases.”

The governing body noted the report and agreed to complete a document on all of the CCG’s induvial cases for members to review.