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05th June 2016

Winterbourne View: Families' anger five years on

A BBC Panorama documentary in May 2011 focused on Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning disabilities, run by the Castlebeck group. Viewers saw inpatients being abused and humiliated. After investigation by police and the providing organisation, six people were jailed in 2012 and five were given suspended sentences. The service itself was closed.

However, the terrible events shown in the program highlighted what seemed to be a wider problem. Too many people with learning disability were being hospitalised often at great distances from their families and community, and the length of their stay was often unjustified. Promises were made at the time to improve services to these people and their families, with a timescale to achieve this by 2014.  It was said there would be a reduction in the number of placements in long term large units where people were cared for inadequately, far from home, and on a long term basis. Alternative, more satisfactory small scale services were promised to be provided. Improvement was promised by 2014, but this did not occur. Instead, it was found that the number of people with learning disability admitted to institutions was higher in 2014 than the number being discharged to the community.

Newspaper reports this week show that there is anger among families and third sector agencies, at the lack of progress on these improvement measures. A letter of protest was sent to the Government by relatives and organisation heads. It claimed that there were now more people in these institutions than in 2011, and there was continued risk of poor care, abuse, and even that lives had been lost.

This comes on top of an investigation and report in 2014, which had been set up to look at reasons then for delays in improvements and to plan for their introduction.

The investigation and report was completed by Sir Stephen Bubb. It was commissioned by NHS England to address concerns that people with a learning disability remained hospitalised, and were not supported to move back to their local community where possible.

The key recommendations of the report included:

  • A programme of closures of in- patient institutions providing inappropriate care.
  • A Charter of Rights for people with a learning disability and their families.
  • A £30 million investment programme to build community- based services and housing options for people with a learning disability.
  • A new initiative to make sure the workforce has the right skills to support people whose behaviour is described as challenging  .

This Bubb report advocated listening to, and empowering people with disability and their families: it appears form the views of these families and significant organisations that little of this has been done.

Will there be yet another mention of this failure in another few years, or will action now be taken to ensure people with learning disabilities have what most of us enjoy: proper treatment when and where we need it? We hope it will be the latter. The ability to bring in these improvements may be as simple as all of us, service commissioners, social workers, care workers and families, standing up loudly for the rights of the people involved.

Tony Clarke – QCS Expert Scottish Care Contributor


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