Working in partnership with Mencap and Sheffield Voices to talk to people about learning disability services in Sheffield.

Due to the success of the Transforming Care Programme over the last 9 years, the demand and need for specific inpatient beds for people with a learning disability has greatly reduced. South Yorkshire was acknowledged nationally as having achieved some of the best progress on reducing avoidable admissions in the country due to improved admissions avoidance and reduced length of stay when admissions were required, increasingly lowering levels of demand and occupancy for inpatient care for people with learning disability/autism have been noted prior to and since the pandemic.

Firshill Rise is an Assessment and Treatment Unit which was temporarily closed in 2021 due to quality concerns following a CQC inspection. The unit has remained closed during a period of quality review. There have also been recurrent difficulties in recruiting specialist staff to reopen the service, especially given the reduced demand and need for admissions.

Hearing the voice of people with a learning disability

NHS South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, Sheffield Voices, Sheffield Mencap & Gateway, Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Sheffield City Council have been working in partnership to ensure that local people who may use this service are involved in the development and consideration of proposals about the future of learning disability services for those experiencing a crisis, including Firshill Rise.

Between January and March 2023, involvement activity took place on the key issues and challenges, gathering views of people with lived experience, service users’ carers and family members.

Recognising the unique communication requirements of this cohort of people, and to make sure we engaged individuals in a person-centred way, we funded two community organisations, Sheffield Voices and Sheffield Mencap & Gateway, to support individuals with a learning disability to co-produce and participate in a meaningful dialogue on the issues faced. Using these two organisations meant we were able to increase the reach and diversity of the people involved.

The organisations worked with individuals with a learning disability to design what the involvement should look like. Involvement was undertaken through a variety of face-to-face and online events, including creative sessions where attendees were supported to share their experiences while creating collective art. An Easy Read document was also produced to support communication of these issues. An online survey was developed to allow people to consider and respond virtually, at their own pace and within their own environment.

We asked service users, their families, carers and stakeholders:

  • What type of support is needed to avoid having a crisis?
  • What type of support is needed for those who are in crisis?
  • How have you been impacted by the temporary closure of Firshill Rise?
  • What are the potential issues of having learning disability crisis beds outside Sheffield?
  • Do you have anything else to say about Learning Disability services?


Feedback was received from 181 individuals overall, including 109 individuals with a learning disability and/or or autism and those who had used the inpatient facilities at Firshill Rise in the past.

165 of the responses received were as a direct result of activity undertaken by Sheffield Voices and Mencap. 16 responses were received through the online survey.

“I think this is a brilliant example, and should be noted as a brilliant example, of identifying and finding the right partners to help with that engagement.”

Cllr Ruth Milsom, Chair of Sheffield Health Scrutiny Sub-Committee

“The engagement to date has clearly been well thought through and the creative approach taken to conversations with service users and their families has garnered a good response rate and good quality feedback to help shape the next steps. The approach taken, partnering with local organisations to engage with key groups and individuals in innovative ways, offers a best practice approach that others may learn from.”

Joanne Dobson, Locality Director – South Yorkshire & Bassetlaw, NHS England & NHS Improvement | North East & Yorkshire

How will the feedback be used?

The feedback received through the phase 1 involvement/engagement stage will be used alongside financial, quality and other commissioning information to develop viable options for the future need and provision of Learning Disability inpatient provision and on wide options to enhance and improve community service provision.

Engagement and coproduction of these options will continue and will include the support of community organisations working with individuals with a learning disability.

For further information

Please contact if you have any further questions or comments.

An easy read engagement document can be accessed here

The Equality and Health Inequality Impact Assessment can be read here