Human rights expert condemns sickening abuse footage

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Human rights expert condemns sickening abuse footage

2nd June 2011

A human rights expert has strongly condemned undercover footage taken at a leading private care hospital, depicting a regime of sickening abuse by staff of patients with severe learning disabilities.

Mark McGhee, an expert in human rights legislation for Fentons Solicitors LLP, expressed his horror after the BBC Panorama programme was screened on Tuesday, 31 May. The footage was recorded secretly at Winterbourne View, a residential hospital in Hambrook, near Bristol, that treats people with learning disabilities and autism.

"I was truly appalled when I learned of the kind of 'care' that was being offered to patients at this facility," said Mark, an associate with the firm. "These patients have families, families who have entrusted their loved ones into the care of staff whose job it is to provide the kind of specialist support and therapy they need. The treatment depicted in the BBC Panorama footage is nothing short of disgusting and must be an immense source of pain for those families who have now had to witness the kind of abusive and despicable ordeals their loved ones were subjected to."

The regime of abuse was exposed by the BBC Panorama programme after an undercover reporter obtained a job as an unqualified support worker. During five weeks spent filming undercover, he recorded his fellow workers routinely slapping and kicking patients with severe developmental problems as well as repeatedly pinning them down, knocking them over, taunting, teasing and dragging them into showers whilst fully clothed or drenching them in cold water.

"The kind of degrading treatment these patients were subjected to was perhaps as far as you could possibly get from the care, therapy and support this institution was supposed to provide," said Mark. "The cruel and often pointless physical restraint methods, the aggressive bullying and frequent verbal abuse that had become routine as a means of amusement for staff, is beyond shocking and can only be described as torture."

Panorama chose to focus on Winterbourne View after receiving a tip-off by Terry Bryan, a former senior nurse with 35 years experience who had previously worked at the unit. Mr Bryan had tried and failed to raise his concerns with the Winterbourne House management as well as the sector regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which has since admitted that "there were indications of problems at this hospital which should have led us to taking action sooner."

Care services minister Paul Burstow, professed his shock at the revelations and immediately ordered a series of unannounced inspections of similar units by the CQC which has apologised for failing to act on earlier warnings concerning the facility.

"It is shocking that neither the hospital management nor more worryingly, the CQC, failed to act after receiving complaints of this nature," said Mark. "If the CQC in particular had followed up on these concerns when they were first raised, and conducted a full investigation, they could have ensured that this sickening level of abuse was ended far sooner than it was allowed to continue."

Winterbourne View is a privately owned, taxpayer-funded, 24-bed purpose-built assessment facility for adults with profound learning disabilities and autism. Most of the patients portrayed in the programme had lived there for more than 12 months, each at a cost to taxpayers of £3,500 a week. Castlebeck - one of Britain's leading care companies, which own the hospital - specialises in caring for people with learning disabilities. It currently has 56 units and a £90m turnover. Safeguarding agencies have taken steps to protect the patients at Winterbourne View, some of whom have been moved to other locations. The unit has now been barred from taking any further admissions.

"This was the worst kind of institutional care imaginable," said Mark. "Winterbourne View was meant to be a therapeutic environment for people with very serious learning disabilities. It is now imperative that along with an internal investigation into Castlebeck's management and whistle-blowing procedures, there is a thorough examination into how standards of treatment are monitored within the care system nationwide. The government needs to examine the training and regulation of healthcare assistants and address the various questions that have now been raised.

"How can it be right that there are no national standards for those caring for vulnerable patients?" added Mark. "How can it be right for 'any qualified provider' to supply healthcare in the same way as social care, where private companies and charities dominate the market? Should caring for the vulnerable be an industry generating profit or a public service? Should support workers, like nurses, be listed on a national register and should they be paid higher wages for the work that they do?"

The chief executive of Castlebeck has apologised unreservedly to the patients and their families, saying he was personally ashamed of being part of an organisation that had allowed such abuse to occur. As a result of the footage, Avon and Somerset Police have now arrested four people as part of an ongoing investigation and thirteen employees have been suspended.

How can Fentons help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in helping victims of abuse.
If you would like to talk to one of our experts in confidence then please contact us on 0161 684 6643 or 0161 238 6440.

Read more at BBC News