I was shocked and appalled when I watched the recent Panorama documentary about the abuse of people with learning disabilities in a hospital. It showed what can happen in a service for vulnerable people, when a cruel rather than a kind and caring culture develops. I can only imagine how distressing it must be for a parent or relative of a loved one who has a learning disability. You may be wondering “is my next of kin safe?”
I wanted to reassure you that we are constantly vigilant, because we know that there is always a risk that a culture of abuse can develop in a service. We carry out very regular audits of quality in our services, and people are frequently visiting them. I visited 10 services in East Sussex yesterday and am in services most days of the week, as are other members of our senior management team. We train our staff on the importance of reporting any concerns about the care provided to people we support. We also have an independent whistleblowing line that staff can contact anonymously –and those referrals come straight to me.
I don’t believe this issue is happening anywhere in CMG and Regard, and I know that the vast majority of our staff are caring people, who have the best interests of the people they support at heart.
However, these cultures can develop, and we must be vigilant. I would encourage you to let us know if you have any concerns when you visit your loved ones. We take complaints very seriously and investigate them quickly and thoroughly. We have a Relative Liaison Officer, Helen Woods, whose job is to ensure that there is really good communication with families, that you are listened to, and any concerns are addressed. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Sometimes it’s not as obvious as what was shown in the documentary, but, for example, staff can start treating people with challenging behaviour as “naughty” and introduce punishments that might be applied with an unruly child. Some abuse is obvious and some isn’t. The best guide is our conscience. If someone sees something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they must act on that feeling. Staff and families must report anything that worries them. Staff should speak to, or e-mail someone senior, and can choose to remain anonymous if they like. They can also report any concerns to our independent whistleblowing line (08000 915 0804). It is the responsibility of all of us to keep the people we support safe, and we will ensure that anyone who whistleblows and does the right thing is protected.
In CMG and Regard the people we support come first, we want them to be treated with dignity and respect at all times and to achieve and fulfil their potential.
It is time for the Government to act. Not enough has been done in the eight years since Winterbourne View. Hospitals like the one we saw in the documentary should be closed. I spent a large part of my career closing long stay hospitals, and I know it can be done. Over a 20 year period we moved around 50,000 people out of hospitals into the community; I can’t believe it’s impossible to achieve that for 2,000 people. There will need to be some hospital beds for the most complex people, in my estimation around 500 in England. The rest should close.
The Government should identify which hospitals will remain open, and should put in place the necessary programme to ensure that they are state of the art centres demonstrating best practice. All the other hospitals should close; each hospital should have a closure plan with a timescale and a named person responsible who is personally accountable to the Department of Health and Social Care. 20 years ago I was personally accountable for closing a particularly challenging hospital and I went up to the Department of Health every 2 months to report on progress.
There is a lack of accountability in the current system with too much talking, and not enough action. I also have to question CQC who rated that hospital as “good” on all 5 areas. When the CQC rating system was introduced, I liked it. More recently I’ve become concerned that it focuses too much on paperwork and not enough on the culture of the service and the outcomes achieved with the people being supported. You can have a pretty institutional service where people supported have dull lives, but the paperwork is in place, and you can get a “good”. On the other hand, you can have a vibrant service where the people supported live full and active lives, staff are highly motivated and person centred, but there is a minor issue with paperwork and you can get a “requires improvement”.
I think there needs to be much more focus on the culture of services, how staff interact with people being supported and outcomes rather than ticking boxes.