The recent Panorama programme exposed the terrible cruelty that learning disabled residents had to endure in a “private” hospital. It demonstrated yet again the need for us to decide whether we can continue to place the most vulnerable people in our society in large institutions away from the public eye. We rarely hear of such terrible abuses taking place in small, local neighbourhood based residential units. The problem is that many local communities have vehemently opposed the development of small units in their neighbourhoods. Society generally objects to higher local and national taxation so you end up with a weak and ineffectual inspection system and cheap to run large institutions. In part we all share the blame for the awful treatment these learning disabled residents experienced.
The government should abandon plans to impose a time limit on claiming certain out-of-work disability benefits, say campaigners, after research showed only a tiny proportion of claimants are finding jobs.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) research showed that less than five per cent of disabled people who had been found not immediately “fit for work” had secured jobs over the course of more than a year.
The research analysed the results of a survey of disabled people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).
Of claimants placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) – those expected to prepare for an eventual return to work – less than five per cent had found work.
The group had been claiming ESA since between April and June 2009, and were interviewed for the survey more than a year later.
Disability Alliance (DA) said the figures showed the government should rethink its plans to stop paying “contributory” ESA to those in the WRAG after one year, from 2012.
A DA spokesman said: “With government job cuts likely to increase the number of disabled people seeking work and more than 10 people seeking every current vacancy, employment prospects for disabled people look grim.
“DA hopes this DWP evidence will halt government plans to scrap access after one year for disabled people receiving contributions-based ESA in the work-related activity group.”
A second piece of DWP research has produced fresh evidence of concerns about the healthcare professionals (HCPs) used by the company Atos Healthcare to carry out work capability assessments (WCAs) for the government.
The research looks at the two pilot schemes that began in Aberdeen and Burnley last October as part of plans to reassess about 1.5 million long-term claimants of IB using the WCA, a test repeatedly criticised by disabled people as unfair, inaccurate and not fit for purpose.
The research found that while “some customers commented positively on the empathy and professionalism of the HCP conducting their assessment, negative reports of the tone, manner or approach of HCPs were reasonably common”.
It also describes how most of those found “fit for work” were “generally stunned and/or angry, although a few were unsurprised and admitted they felt ready to work”.
One man with a physical health condition who had been claiming IB for more than five years said he was “like a freshly boiled owl – incandescent with rage”, and described the decision to find him fit for work as “absolute nonsense” because his doctor’s certificate “automatically overrules their assessment”.
Despite such concerns, the report concludes that “by and large the reassessment process was working well”.
A DWP spokeswoman said the government wanted to ensure the WCA was “as fair and accurate as possible” and had accepted all the recommendations for improvements made by its independent reviewer, Professor Malcolm Harrington, while the test “continues to be kept under review”.
She said: “The government has made it clear that disabled people who can’t work won’t have to but we will also ensure that disabled people get the help they need to move into the jobs they want.”
Panorama abuse scandal: Care regulator ‘is not fit for purpose’
Disabled people’s organisations and leading disabled activists say the care watchdog is “unfit for purpose”, following a BBC investigation into abuse at a private “hospital” for people with learning difficulties.
Activists have also called for action to stop people with learning difficulties being placed in large institutional settings like Winterbourne View, the hospital featured in this week’s Panorama documentary. They believe such placements are being made as cost-cutting measures.
A BBC undercover reporter filmed slaps, kicks and other physical assaults, violent threats, and repeated bullying, mocking, humiliation and other ill-treatment of “patients” with learning difficulties at the hospital in Hambrook, near Bristol.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, has written to the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, describing her “shock” and “horror” while watching the documentary.
Newman said she believed the scandal showed the Care Quality Commission (CQC) was “inept” and “unfit for purpose” because of its failure to act over concerns that were raised last year by a whistleblower.
Newman said the use of “hospital” facilities like Winterbourne View for people with learning difficulties had “no place in our modern day society”.
She said local authorities were opting for such placements because they were funded through the NHS, rather than their own budgets.
She wrote: “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.”
The Department of Health declined to comment on the use of such hospitals.
Newman also said the Panorama documentary showed that the rights of the service-users at the hospital under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were “being breached on a daily basis”.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said the abuse uncovered was “appalling” and “horrific”, and added: “There have been so many cases. [Every time] there is an inquiry and we are promised that it will never happen again. And it does.”
Lee called for “some high-profile sackings” and said that people with learning difficulties themselves need to be in a position to “knock some heads together” to sort out what is “a very big mess”.
He also said the case raised serious concerns over the government’s push for the private sector to play a larger part in providing care services, as the private sector “cannot be trusted”.
And he called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use the case in its report on how the UK has implemented the UN convention.
He also called for stricter sentences for such abuse and for the bosses of local authorities responsible for failures in such cases to be held accountable.
He said he agreed with UKDPC that the case showed the CQC was “not fit for purpose”.
And he called for Castlebeck – the company that runs the hospital and 55 other such institutions – to be stripped of all of its public contracts.
Another leading activist, Michael Ratcliffe, former co-chair of The National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, called for CQC to be “disbanded”.
Ratcliffe, himself a survivor of institutional abuse, said: “It is obviously not doing its job right. The top people should lose their jobs. They have failed us.”
He said the latest scandal showed again the need for “all types of advocacy” in care settings, as well as proper training for staff.
He added: “As long as these organisations put profit as their first priority and people with learning difficulties as their third or fourth priority then they are going to carry on happening.”
Care services minister Paul Burstow said the abuse uncovered by Panorama was “shocking” and that he had “ordered a thorough examination of the roles of both CQC and the local authorities in this case”.
A CQC spokesman said it had made an “unforgivable error, a terrible mistake” in failing to follow up the whistleblower’s allegations, but that did not mean it was not fit for purpose.
He said the watchdog had taken action in “hundreds and hundreds” of cases across the country against poor providers.
Winterbourne View “cares” for 24 people with learning difficulties and describes itself as “a purpose designed acute service, offering assessment and intervention and support for people with learning disabilities, complex needs and challenging behaviour”.
Lee Reed, Castlebeck’s chief executive, said he was “shocked, disgusted and ashamed” by what he had seen on Panorama.
Castlebeck has suspended 13 members of staff and two managers, commissioned an independent review of its own operations, is reviewing all patient care records at its 56 facilities, and has asked an advocacy group to “undertake a review of the patient experience at all our hospitals”.
Avon and Somerset police said four staff members – three men and a woman – had been arrested on suspicion of mistreatment of patients under the Mental Capacity Act and assault. All four have been released on police bail.
Panorama abuse scandal: Revelations ‘show little has changed’ since 1990s
The abuse of disabled people uncovered by a BBC investigation shows little has changed since the exposure of an even more horrific regime 17 years ago, say campaigners.
The undercover investigation revealed a catalogue of abuse at Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning difficulties near Bristol.
But the Panorama programme was aired in the same week as the publication of a new book which tells the full story of probably the most notorious and brutal regime of abuse of adults with learning difficulties.
Longcare Survivors: The Biography of a Care Scandal is the result of journalist John Pring’s 17-year investigation into the crimes that took place at the Longcare homes in south Buckinghamshire, near Slough.
It also examines the impact of the regime on those who survived the abuse, and investigates the ingrained discrimination in society that is still exposing people with learning difficulties to shocking levels of injustice, hostility and violent crime.
Pring – the editor and founder of Disability News Service – said he was appalled but not surprised by the cruelty revealed by the BBC investigation.
What particularly appalled him, he said, was that the flaws in the care system exposed by Panorama were so similar to those that emerged from the Longcare case, 17 years earlier.
Pring said: “Despite 17 years of inquiries, white papers, legislation, guidance, criminal investigations and serious case reviews, people with learning difficulties are still being exposed to such terrible cruelty and violence. It seems that so little has changed.”
As with Longcare, campaigners and commentators are blaming a callous indifference in society to the rights of people with learning difficulties; the use of large, institutional settings; poorly-trained and low-paid care workers; the failure of inspections to spot abusive cultures; different agencies failing to communicate with each other and share information; a lack of advocacy for service-users; and authorities failing to take complaints of abuse seriously and ignoring whistleblowers.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), a leading organisation run by people with learning difficulties, said he agreed that nothing appeared to have changed in 17 years.
He said: “There must have been loads of reports that were put towards parliament that promised change, that things would improve. If the ink that was on those reports was worth anything, this would not be happening.”
Kathryn Stone, chief executive of Voice UK, a charity which supports people with learning difficulties who have been victims of crime or abuse, said the documentary was a “shocking indictment of our system for regulating care”.
In the last year, Voice UK’s helpline has taken more than 2,000 calls relating to similar abuse in care settings, day centres and people’s own homes.
She said the case had “the most terrible echoes of Longcare” and appeared to show that the system for preventing and detecting abuse was no better than it was in the 1990s.
She said: “It sickens me to see how far it has gone back.”
Voice UK is about to launch a “Listen Louder” campaign, aimed at persuading society to do more to listen to people with learning difficulties when they make allegations of abuse.
Pring’s book also raises serious concerns about the Care Quality Commission’s plans to reduce inspections of facilities like Winterbourne View and its new “risk-based” system of regulation which focuses on poorer homes while leaving others to submit their own written self-assessments.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com