The Socialist 8 June 2011 |
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Vulnerable patients abused at privately run Bristol hospital
By a Unison member
In a shocking exposť of Winterbourne View 'hospital' near Bristol, owned by Castlebeck, an undercover Panorama reporter Joe Casey filmed people with learning disabilities and autism being systematically abused by staff.
The first few minutes would have left viewers feeling numb, but towards the end one resident's sickening treatment over a day was correctly described as 'torture' by her distressed parents.
What unfolded was a daily culture of bullying, intimidation and violence perpetrated by a core group of unqualified staff devoid of any compassion for or understanding of the vulnerable people they worked with.
These staff deliberately created situations of conflict and then abused patients into submission, particularly through the inappropriate use of physical restraint.
The fact that this has been exposed was only made possible by a nurse Terry Bryan who has risked his career by approaching Panorama. This alone is a testament to the failure of all the safeguards in health and social care that are meant to protect vulnerable people.
Terry approached his own management twice, and the Care Quality Commission (CQC ) three times. According to a CQC statement, an unnamed local authority was asked by them in December to organise a safeguarding meeting to investigate Terry's complaints, but a first meeting was only held in February with little obviously happening in the intervening period.
Because Winterbourne View is a therapeutic and assessment facility, trained staff should have been working in a sensitive and patient manner with residents supervised by nurses and management.
Instead volatile individuals were recruited, residents were warehoused during the day in a lounge with few activities, paperwork was falsified, and nurses stood by as abuse took place.
Serious questions also have to be asked about why, following the CQC's request for a safeguarding meeting, professional Independent Mental Capacity Advocates were not appointed for each resident.
One resident had alerted her parents to the abuse but was thought to be exaggerating. One visit by a trained advocate would have raised enough concerns for the immediate involvement of the police.
Clearly there is huge anger towards the 13 staff who have been suspended, nine of whom have been arrested. But there is a danger that a witch-hunt through the right wing press and social media sites could lead to vigilantism and deflect attention from the systemic failures exposed by Panorama.
Following the programme, the CQC has deservedly come in for stinging criticism. It has since carried out three unannounced inspections at Winterbourne View, stopped further admissions, started an immediate review of services run by Castlebeck, launched an internal investigation into its own actions, and apologised to Terry and 'offered to discuss his concerns'.
The CQC has now announced inspections of a 'sample' of 150 hospitals similar to Winterbourne View. But what CQC's senior management have not said is that their own frontline inspectors, many of whom are threatened with redundancy, did find in December 2009 that at Winterbourne View there was no clear record of staff training or if it took place, and no annual update training in de-escalation and physical intervention techniques.
Castlebeck is owned by a Jersey-based investment vehicle called Lydian Capital, which is backed by a group of Irish business tycoons led by JP McManus, John Magnier and Dermot Desmond.
With private equity sharks and the profit motive now running through parts of health and social care like a stick of Blackpool rock, can we be confident there are no more Winterbourne Views? No!