A pretty fraught week one way and another! My car has developed an intermittent fault, which causes it to cut out randomly and unexpectedly! When it happens the powered steering, brakes and all electrics cease. So travelling at 60 on the A1 the systems all shut down and I had to use a parked mini to stop! Luckily damage to both vehicles was slight and no one injured! As you can imagine my desire to drive the thing has plummeted but the good news is that because the vehicle is leased through Motability they have come up trumps. They arranged for the damage to be repaired and have managed to find a temporary replacement vehicle not an easy task. I’ve been telephoned every day with an update re progress and I am mightily impressed. Customer service is alive and well and living at Motability Operations!
Care watchdog defends failure to uncover abuse evidence
The care regulator has defended the failure of its own inspectors to uncover evidence of serious abuse at a private “hospital” for people with learning difficulties.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) faced serious questions this week after it published its report into alleged abuse at Winterbourne View, near Bristol.
The report includes evidence of concerns about care standards at the hospital that pre-dates CQC’s previous inspection of Winterbourne View in December 2009, which failed to uncover the alleged abuse.
Instead, action was only taken by the authorities after detailed evidence was aired in a BBC Panorama investigation in May this year.
Until this week, CQC has been criticised for failing to follow-up concerns expressed by a whistleblower but not for its failure to uncover the alleged abuse through its inspection process.
The new report details the findings of CQC’s in-depth review of care at Winterbourne View, undertaken after it was told about Panorama’s investigation.
The CQC report says Winterbourne View failed to “protect people or to investigate allegations of abuse”, while the company that ran the hospital, Castlebeck, failed in its legal duty to notify CQC of serious incidents including injuries to patients or occasions when they had gone missing.
The CQC concluded that Winterbourne View had breached 10 legal care standards, and said the report was a “damning indictment of the regime” and its “systemic failings” to protect the people in its care.
But the report crucially reveals that documentary evidence of concerns about standards at Winterbourne View appears to date back to at least 2006 and seems to have been overlooked by the previous CQC inspection in December 2009.
The new report also reveals that a Mental Health Act commissioner who visited Winterbourne View for the CQC in September 2010 asked the hospital for a copy of an independent review of an incident in which a patient had received a broken wrist after being restrained by a staff member.
But CQC failed to follow-up on its request and did not receive any paperwork about the incident from Winterbourne View – documents which were to show a string of inconsistencies – until it made a new request after the Panorama revelations.
Although there are substantial parts of the new CQC report where dates are unclear, among the evidence that pre-dates December 2009 are:
Records that show a staff member was employed for more than three months in 2008 before their Criminal Records Bureau check was completed. There was only one employment reference for this member of staff.
The employment of a member of staff in 2006 relied on two telephone references from friends of the applicant.
A support worker wrote in their appraisal in April 2009 that they were “struggling to follow senior support worker directions due to shortage of staff”.
A CQC spokesman said that the December 2009 inspection was carried out under previous legislation, in which inspections concentrated on “issues of concern” raised by the service’s own self-assessment.
He said: “There is no evidence that abuse was taking place at that time, although our latest report has uncovered concerns that date from then.”
He added: “A range of professionals from a range of organisations had contact with Winterbourne View. None of them uncovered this serious abuse.
“The whistleblower who did contact us had not seen this level of abuse. It took secret filming to find out what was going on at Winterbourne View.
“No system of inspection, however regular, is guaranteed to expose criminal abuse if the perpetrators are determined to keep it secret.”
When asked whether he believed CQC could have uncovered the alleged abuse in December 2009 if it had inspected Winterbourne View more thoroughly, he said: “I can’t add to my earlier replies except to say that it is a matter for the serious case review [commissioned by South Gloucestershire council] chaired by Margaret Flynn to look at the actions of the regulator, and others.
“She’ll draw conclusions – and it’s not appropriate for us to pre-empt them.”
He was also unable to clarify why CQC failed to follow-up the missingindependent review of the incident in which a patient received a broken wrist.
CQC admitted this week that it wants to increase the frequency of inspections of care and health services, in a reversal of its previous “proportionate, risk-based, light-touch” policy.
CQC reports on Castlebeck’s other 23 facilities for people with learning difficulties in England are to be published by the end of this month.
Winterbourne View has already closed, and nine men and three women have been arrested and released on police bail in connection with allegations of abuse.
Concern over replacement of ODI director
The government has replaced the disabled director of its Office for Disability Issues (ODI) with a non-disabled civil servant, without advertising the post externally.
Tim Cooper is moving to a new job as chief executive of Advance, a supported housing and employment charity, after two years as ODI’s director.
ODI was set up in 2005 by the Labour government to help deliver equality for disabled people by 2025 and act as a champion for disabled people across government.
Cooper, who is deaf, has refused to discuss the reasons for his departure, amid speculation that he could be leaving due to unhappiness with the coalition’s policies on disability and equality.
In January, he was forced publicly to defend the government’s record after disabled activists criticised its programme of spending cuts and attitude to human rights.
When asked this week why Cooper was leaving, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said he was “returning to direct service provision, where he has spent the majority of his career to date”.
In a two-line statement, Cooper said: “I shall be sad to leave ODI but I am very excited about the potential of my new role.
“Advance has been at the forefront of many tremendous developments in services for disabled people and people with mental health issues and I look forward to continuing this work.”
In January, Cooper said ODI’s role was to “ensure that as best we can that disabled people are not disproportionately affected by these public spending cuts. We will do that job to the best of our ability.”
This week, he declined requests for an interview.
He will be replaced in September by civil servant Jeremy Moore, who is not disabled and will also take on the role of director of independent living. He was appointed before many ODI staff were told Cooper was leaving.
Moore will now be responsible for all disability issues across the DWP, including employment, benefits and the ODI. He is currently director of the DWP’s “departmental transformation programme”.
The DWP spokesman said Moore was appointed because he “has a lot of experience working on disability issues and was the best candidate for the job”, while the appointment was “part of the wider selection process of senior civil servants currently underway at the DWP”.
Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, said he had some concerns about the decision to move away from a stand-alone director of the ODI and how this would affect the ODI’s role and independence from other parts of the DWP.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said: “Bringing all disability issues together under one director reflects our commitment to a more joined up approach in ensuring disability issues are given the attention they deserve.”
DPO funding is welcomed, but is still a ‘drop in the ocean’
The government has launched a scheme designed to support the growth of local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, was at West of England Centre for Inclusive Living in Bristol to launch the programme, which was first announced in May and will invest £3 million over four years in helping DPOs improve how they are run.
Miller announced that Rich Watts, director of policy and development for Essex Coalition of Disabled People, had been seconded part-time to the government’s Office for Disability Issues to lead the Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme.
Campaigners have increasingly been raising concerns that the local authority spending squeeze – largely caused by the government’s deficit reduction plan – has been putting the future of many local DPOs at risk.
DPOs can now bid for “modest” amounts of money – expected to be a maximum of £10,000 and up to £30,000 in total over the four years of the scheme – to fund specific projects.
Stephen Lee Hodgkins, director of Disability LIB, which was itself set up to build the capacity of DPOs, welcomed the appointment of Watts, who he said was “the right person for the job”.
He said the funding was welcome but “a drop in the ocean” when measured against the huge financial strain facing DPOs as a result of government cuts.
He also said that funding was likely to be awarded for projects that fitted the government’s agenda, rather than the agenda of DPOs.
But he welcomed the decision that any money that was needed to meet access requirements – such as BSL interpreters – would not be counted as part of the maximum funding DPOs could receive through the scheme.
As part of the same programme, the government has appointed 12 “ambassadors” to “promote the cause” of DPOs and “encourage mutual sharing and support”, although the Department for Work and Pensions was unable to say how many of them were disabled.
Hodgkins said he was disappointed that it had not been made more explicit which of the ambassadors were disabled people as that would have helped them in their role.
The government is now seeking volunteer “experts” who are willing to share their skills with DPOs, in areas such as human resources, financial management, IT and business planning.
In a statement, Watts said: “Leading this programme is a great opportunity to raise the profile of disabled people’s user-led organisations and to sustain and share the successes they achieve, including providing the support that disabled people really need.
“Working with a team of ambassadors, we will share our skills and experience with other organisations, as well as learn from them and pass it on, to ensure that disabled people have their voices heard at every level.”
Government omits hate crime murder measures from sentencing bill
The government has failed to fulfil its pledge to end the glaring disparity between sentences for disability and other hate crime murders.
Someone found guilty of a race hate murder, or one based on hostility to religion or sexuality, faces a “starting tariff” – which could be increased or lowered due to other factors – of at least 30 years in prison.
But under schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, someone found guilty of a disability hate crime murder faces a starting tariff of just 15 years.
Last December, the Ministry of Justice published a green paper, Breaking the Cycle, which included a pledge to tighten the law on hate crime, including an examination of schedule 21.
Discussing the sentencing framework for murder, the green paper pledged to “replace the current list of groups which attract the statutory aggravating factor in sentencing for hate crime with a general aggravating factor where the offender demonstrates hatred or hostility to a particular group”.
But the government’s response to a consultation on the green paper, published last month, makes no mention of schedule 21 or its hate crime pledge.
And there are no measures on increasing sentences for disability hate crime murders in the coalition’s new legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which had its first reading in the Commons on the same day.
The Ministry of Justice said the government had decided to abandon reform of Schedule 21 as a whole but that it still intended to find a way to tighten sentencing laws for disability hate crime murders.
The discrepancy in sentencing provision was highlighted the month before the green paper was published by the case of Martin Mather, who was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to beating a disabled man to death at his flat in Rhyl, north Wales.
Because it was a murder case, the law did not allow the judge to increase Mather’s sentence on the grounds that it was a disability hate crime, even though both the Crown Prosecution Service and North Wales police had treated it as a hate crime. Mather was told he would serve a minimum of just 17 years in prison.
Delay to welfare reform bill gives campaigners more time
Campaigners have welcomed the government’s decision to postpone the next parliamentary stage of its controversial welfare reform bill.
The bill has already passed through the Commons and a second reading debate was due to take place on 19 July in the House of Lords. But this debate has now been postponed until 13 September.
Many disability organisations have argued that the passage of the bill has been rushed and have criticised the government for failing to publish details of how the bill will affect disabled people.
Campaigners have become increasingly frustrated by the reluctance to release detailed information about the likely impact of its reforms of disability living allowance (DLA), even though its replacement – personal independence payment (PIP) – is due to be introduced in less than two years.
The detail of how the reforms will work in practice and how they will impact on disabled people will be contained in regulations, which the government has yet to publish.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance (DA), welcomed the decision to postpone the Lords second reading but said the timing of the government’s announcement of the delay – late last week – was “very strange”.
He said the message from peers to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been that they did not want to debate the bill until September.
Despite the delay, Coyle warned that there had been no indication yet that the government was “wildly revising the provisions of the bill”.
DA has warned that it is ready to seek a judicial review of the government’s DLA reforms, if it fails to provide evidence that it has carried out a robust analysis of the impact of the changes.
DA has asked the government to prove that it has properly analysed the impact of proposed cuts of more than £2 billion to spending on DLA/PIP. Coyle said the delay would mean there was more time for the government to provide this evidence.
He said: “The more time they give themselves, the more likely it is they can avoid any potential judicial review.
“We are not questioning the right of government to make decisions, but they need to do it based on the right evidence.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the date of the second reading was moved “due to parliamentary business”, and insisted that the government was “following the usual processes” and “working with disability organisations” on DLA reform.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com