THE last residents have moved out of the Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital for people with learning disabilities, ending more than 50 years of long-stay care at the site near Cwmbran.

For a number of years the hospital has cared for fewer than 50 people, all of whom had ongoing healthcare needs in addition to severe learning disabilities, but these residents have now been moved into purpose-built facilities in the community.

These bungalow-style facilities have been built across Gwent - one in each local authority area - and each houses several of those for whom until a couple of weeks ago the Grange was their long term home.

The Grange is one of the last long stay hospitals of its kind in Wales, and had been caring for people with learning disabilities since 1953.

In the early 1960s it had more than 500 beds, provided in a series of accommodation blocks called villas.

It still had more than 300 residents in 1983, when the All Wales mental handicap strategy decreed an end to such long stay hospitals and the resettlement of residents into the community, to boost the aim of recognising them as "equal and valued" members of society.

Since then many such hospitals in Wales, including Pen-y-Fal, at Abergavenny, have closed, with hundreds of people resettled.

But the process has been controversial, not least regarding the Grange.

The Llanfrechfa Grange Residents, Relatives and Supporters Association has long argued that resettlement is not ideal for every patient and claimed that there has been a lack of choice over alternatives to replace the long-stay programme.

The Grange site still houses an assessment and treatment centre for learning disability and healthcare needs, and remains in use as an administrative headquarters for Gwent Healthcare Trust.

For the trust, the site is the preferred option for the development of a Specialist and Critical Care Centre to treat the area's sickest patients, a key part of plans to modernise hospital services across Gwent.

It is also likely that part of the site will be used for housing development, though until the Assembly formally approves the trust's proposal, its future remains unclear.