The BBC’s Panorama programme exposed systematic abuse of people with a learning disability at Winterbourne View residential hospital. But what are the next steps?
In May (2011), millions of television viewers watched in horror as staff at a care and assessment unit abused the people they were employed to care for. The BBC’s Panorama programme, screened on 31 May, exposed a regime of abuse at the privately run Winterbourne View residential hospital in Hambrook, near Bristol. Using secret cameras, Panorama’s undercover reporter captured a culture in which care staff routinely taunted, kicked, slapped and pinned down residents.
Following the broadcast, the company that owns Winterbourne View, Castlebeck, suspended 13 of its employees. All of the residents of the 24-bed unit have now moved into alternative accommodation and Winterbourne View closed on 24 June.
Eleven people have been arrested on suspicion of ill treatment under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, although all have been released on bail.
Castlebeck’s chief executive, Lee Reed, said: “I intend to leave no stone unturned to ensure that this type of horrific event is never allowed to happen again.”
The case has raised questions about how a culture of abuse could continue unchallenged for so long. Whistleblower Terry Bryan reported his concerns in October 2010, but Castlebeck did not follow them up. He then approached the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which also failed to investigate his claims.
The scandal also raises some key questions. Why were people living long term at a unit designed as an assessment centre for people with challenging needs? And why has advice following scandals at Budock Hospital and Orchard Hill not been heeded?
Demand for action
In an attempt to learn from the events at Winterbourne View, a number of investigations are underway and working groups have been formed across the social care sector.
On Monday 20 June, a group of 86 learning disability organisations (including Mencap) and individuals in the sector wrote to David Cameron, demanding that he commit to 15 actions in response to the abuse. In the short term, the group says that a framework of actions is needed to improve standards in learning disability hospital services, but in the long term, hospital services should be replaced with individualised services.