DAA News Network

UK: BBC programme exposes criminal abuse at care home

Posted 03/6-11 at 12.40

On May 31st, the BBC screened an extremely disturbing documentary showing the violent abuse suffered by people with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View, a residential institution near Bristol run by Castlebeck. The latter is owned by an off-shore company backed by a group of rich Irish investors who also own, through another company, 200 additional care homes.

The film showed how staff pinned residents to the floor and forced one into the shower fully dressed and then outside until she shook from cold.

Residents were slapped and taunted, and one was teased about a suicide attempt. Experts told the programme what they had seen amounted to "torture". Four of the staff were arrested after the broadcast.

The Care Quality Commission, that has admitted it did not respond to complaints about what was going on at Winterbourne View, says that unannounced checks would now be carried out at 150 care homes.


The programme can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yuPvUHsx1Y&feature=related

Editorial comment: It is curious that this story has caused shock in the media, when such abuse, and worse, has been evidenced again and again in ‘care' institutions in the UK and throughout the world. This is one reason the disability movement has for many years called for such places to be closed down and for people to be supported to live in the community.

The open letter (below) to the Minister for Disabled People from Julie Newman, the acting chair of the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council (UKDPC), asks some searching questions about the current scandal and sets out in full the case why change is urgently needed.

31 May 2011

An open letter to the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, from the Acting Chair of the United Kingdom Disabled Peoples Council, Julie Newman.

Dear Minister,

I have just seen the BBC Panorama investigation into the abuse that was inflicted upon residents of a privately run ‘hospital', Winterbourne View Hospital for People with Learning Difficulties. It was with horror that I watched the investigation unfold, and the systematic bullying and assaults that were inflicted by the staff members.

Aside from the appalling treatment that was portrayed, there were interviews with the Regional Director of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) responsible for that area and it was clear from these that the CQC is unfit for purpose. I was shocked to hear of the lapses that had occurred on the part of the CQC after the situation had been reported to them on more than one occasion by a former member of staff. It is unthinkable that this was not progressed and acted on to ensure that such treatment was stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice.

The CQC were portrayed as inept and incapable of responding fully to the questions that were directed to them about the events at Winterbourne View, and it is clear from this that similar situations will currently be occurring across the country. In the body of the Draft UK Initial Report on the UNCRDP, paragraph 119, the CQC is referred to as the independent regulator with powers of enforcement, and as such they carry a duty of care. While it was stated by the CQC that mistakes had been made, there was no indication of how they had been investigated and what actions followed. Although the details of criminal investigations would be respected as confidential, there was no stated revision of practice or operational review to ensure this could not be repeated. UKDPC would like to know what measures will be taken to address these questions.

The damage that has been inflicted on the recipients of this ‘care' will be immeasurable in relation to their future wellbeing. Systematic abuse and stated ‘torture' is documented as leading to post traumatic stress disorder and this is not recorded as being diminished in people with learning difficulties; indeed, it may be exacerbated. As a former mental health professional myself, I can assure you that the long-term effects of the abuse on the Winterbourne residents will not be remedied by simply rehousing them without specialist intervention.

The programme was not clear about what support was made available at the time. Nor do there appear to be any national guidelines about what support should be put in place following the discovery of such barbaric treatment, despite this being far from the first time that abuse on this level has been uncovered within a residential care setting. UKDPC would like to know what measures have been put into place for the residents to have access to appropriate support, and what plans there are for national guidance for future situations?

We would also like to know why the Expert Inspectors - people with learning difficulties and direct experience of social care - who had been trained under the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) have not been retained and their employment in undertaking inspections has not been extended. The CSCI Experts by Experience groups clearly identified that disabled people would not disclose the reality of their lives within residential care unless they could speak directly to other disabled people about these. The Panorama programme also illustrates the fact that, even when disabled people do disclose abuse, many professionals and family members fail to believe them and take appropriate action.

Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People states that disabled people should not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. These rights are also enshrined in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Panorama programme clearly showed that the Convention was being breached on a daily basis at Winterbourne View.

The Draft UK Initial Report paragraphs 134 and 135 state clearly that disabled people have the rights to exercise choice and control to live independently. It speaks in some detail of how this is exercised and how involvement in the development and design of services are key elements towards inclusion in society.

Additionally, Article 19 of the CRDP supports the rights of people to live independently in the community, and as you are aware the UK has ratified this without reservation. This does not exclude people with learning difficulties. Within the body of the BBC programme, an expert in the field stated there was no reason why the people featured could not live within the community with appropriate support. These locked wards and ‘hospitals' have no place in our modern day society.

However, local authorities are actually appearing to opt for more placements into ‘residential care' settings which are very similar in role and function to the institutions of old. These places are deemed attractive in relation to budget balancing, as they are funded through the NHS not local authorities due to institutions such as Winterbourne View being categorised as ‘hospitals'. UKDPC strongly urges the Minister to initiate an immediate review and to consult actively with disabled people's organisations to move towards the closure of these institutions as quickly as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely,

Julie Newman, Acting Chair, UKDPC






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