I sat down to watch Panorama yesterday and the trailers and name of the programme were something of a giveaway so I wasn’t exactly unprepared for what was shown.
Panorama had been alerted to abuse within Winterbourne View near Bristol, which is a private hospital run by a company called Castlebeck for people with learning disabilities and autism and according to the description on their own website
.. is a purpose designed acute service, offering assessment and intervention and support for people with learning disabilities, complex needs and challenging behaviour.
It can also provide a service for those liable to be detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. It offers a stable, structured and therapeutic environment and the support of caring and dedicated staff.
Winterbourne View, which has 24 bedrooms, offers the chance for people to progress to more community-based living as part of their ongoing rehabilitation, at their own pace.
Winterbourne View charges an average of £3,500 per week for a place. I wonder how much is spent on staff costs and training.
Acting on the information from a former senior nurse there who had been whistleblowing, Panorama sent in an undercover support worker (journalist) and some hidden cameras. I knew I was prepared. I knew we were going to see abuse but nothing prepared me for the actual footage that I saw.
I try not to engage in hyperbole but what we saw was purely and simply torture of adults who have needs which make them more vulnerable. Physical restraint was used as a punishment and some members of staff were deliberating provoking residents almost as if it were a sport and they were playing at bear baiting. It made for uncomfortable and emotional viewing.
I worked for many years in homes for adults with learning disabilities before I qualified as a support worker and the lack of humanity with with the residents in the hospital were treated was almost physically painful to watch. The programme showed a woman being given showers fully clothed and being dowsed with water outdoors on a cold, March day until she was shivering profusely. They showed her being pinned under a chair.
In one of the most troubling pieces of footage, a girl is shown as she had tried to jump out of the window and the staff mock her attempted suicide and taunt her to ‘try again’ and ‘make a better job of it’ saying things like ‘do you want me to open the window more’ and mockingly telling her she would make a ‘splat noise’. Even writing it out is difficult.
There were other things – comments made, pin downs and the use of martial arts techniques which are, unsurprisingly, wholly inappropriate and this footage was shown to a specialist psychologist with the Tizard Centre who would respond with the same gut horror that you didn’t need to be a psychologist to understand.
The footage really spoke for itself and I wondered about the position of the undercover journalist who stood by and watched some of the abuse occurring. There is an issue of ‘greater good’ versus ‘personal responsibility’ so the argument would be that the programme itself was able to prevent future harm coming to the residents by being transmitted but he admits that it was difficult for him. He says here
I was watching on the sidelines, resisting putting a stop to this (abuse) and blowing my cover. Simone was staring at me as she lay on the floor, staring at the only person not abusing her.
I could not save Simone on that day. I had to resist my instinct to step in. I was there to gather the evidence that could help save others from a similar fate – and Simone herself from future abuse
Some of the more difficult responses came later in the programme as the CEO of Castlebeck was interviewed and of course expressed disgust and surprise at the levels of abuse in Winterbourne View. A company statement is published here and alongside all the usual guff is an acknowledgement that the whistleblowing policy was not adhered to when an initial complaint was made by a staff nurse on 11 October 2010. The footage was filmed between February and March 2011.
I was more furious by the response of the CQC. The whistleblower also contacted them, you see with the allegations of abuse. He contacted them three times.
Winterbourne View had last been inspected ‘two years ago’. Is that the kind of satisfactory inspection regime that we have, Mr Burstow? Oh, wait, it’s ok, because the statement from the CQC says Burstow has authorised a sample of 150 hospitals receive random unannounced inspections. Woah. Only 150? Only a random sample? Why just hospitals for people with learning disabilities? If random unannounced inspections are seen as necessary to prevent institutional abuse on such a wide scale, surely they should be the NORM for everyone who receives a service via a service inspected by the CQC.
No, you see, Burstow (and the Labour ministers before him) seem to think that self-regulation is the way to go. The way the man from the CQC squirmed as he insisted that the paperwork had been in order at Winterbourne View tells a tale all of its own.
And as for the staff, four have been arrested to be charged under s44 of the Mental Capacity Act which makes it an offence to ill-treat or wilfully neglect a person who lacks capacity.
It also begs the question – where were the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards? Were any of the residents detained under DoLs – or the Mental Health Act for that matter (as the hospital was assigned as such to accept people detained) and if that was the case, shouldn’t there be additional checks. Would independent advocates provide a further check?
There are a lot of questions that remain and the main one is the way that institutional abuse can fester in a residential care setting. There are wonderful care homes and hospitals around. I see them and I worked in them and often the ethos trickles down from top to bottom. Staff who see other staff abuse residents can ‘join in’ to be accepted – it is a classic position of bullying and unfortunately sometimes people who enjoy this kind of power play are attracted to work in social care. There needs to be an environment that does not accept this and that stamps down on it immediately and that was the real failing of Castleview.
This was not about 4 rogue members of staff. This was about an environment that allowed them to abuse and for that the senior management up to the Chief Executive should be responsible. Where is the support and training for staff who have to work in stressful environments? Where was the supervision that would have stamped out some of the abuse. That doesn’t excuse those who were responsible for mistreatment but it draws interesting parallels with the sacking of Shoesmith. Wouldn’t we be baying for the blood of the CEO of Castleview? Or perhaps because the abuse took place in a private setting there are different lines of responsibility.
I think we should look long and hard about how we, as a society, seek to push people on the peripheries of society, because of age, disability or capacity to the margins of society and people to provide care who are not regulated and not supervised.
When the regulator fails so substantially as to ignore someone who whistleblows explicitly, do we not see a problem the ‘system’ that is increasingly reliant on proactive ‘complaints’ to trigger assessments?
There is much to do and much that needs to be changed.
I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the programme, it upset me and it angered me but I think everyone involved in the sector should watch it.
It can be viewed here on the BBC iPlayer.