Activists call for Cameron to act on abuse institutions


There is “no place” for the type of private “hospital” that was at the centre of abuse allegations uncovered by the BBC’s Panorama, say disabled activists and other campaigners who have written to the prime minister.

Nearly 90 individuals and organisations call in their letter for David Cameron to end the use of institutions for people with learning difficulties like Winterbourne View, near Bristol, where the abuse alleged by Panorama took place.

The letter says such provision “does not work” and should be replaced with “individualised” services and support that are “integrated as far as possible into local communities”.

It also says that the evidence of abuse and failures seen in the Panorama programme are “an almost unavoidable consequence of the continuing use of inappropriate services”, which are only used because of the lack of more appropriate local facilities.

The campaigners and professionals who signed the letter call for more effective regulation and inspection of services, with priority given to “listening to and understanding the experiences of service users and their families”.

They also call for access to independent advocacy for those placed in settings outside their home area or in hospitals.

And they suggest that there were clear similarities between the events at Winterbourne View and previous abuse scandals, warning that lessons from past cases appear to have “been forgotten”.

Among the disabled activists who have signed the letter are Gavin Harding and Amanda Platts, co-chairs of The National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties; Michael Ratcliffe, a former co-chair of the national forum; Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the user-led Shaping Our Lives network; Steve Robertson, chair of People First (Scotland); and Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR.

Other prominent figures who have signed it include Rob Greig, the government’s former national director for learning disabilities; Dame Philippa Russell, a leading campaigner for carers and the rights of people with learning difficulties; Joanna Perry, chair of Values Into Action; and Steven Rose, chief executive of Choice Support.

A Downing Street spokesman said they would respond formally to the letter in due course.

The letter was sent as the Department of Health (DH) published the terms of reference for its review of the Winterbourne View case.

The review will consider any policy implications, and analyse whether lessons from previous cases have been “embedded into practice”, and where that hasn’t happened “why not and what needs to be done to ensure that it is”.

A DH spokesman said: “We can only share the distress of the authors following the terrible events at Winterbourne View and their determination to prevent the risk of others facing similar abuse.”

He said that “all the issues and actions outlined in the letter will be considered fully” in the review, and added: “We need the full facts of what happened before deciding what actions are needed next.”

Meanwhile, the company that runs Winterbourne View, Castlebeck, has announced that the hospital will close for good on 24 June, when the last service-users are transferred to new homes.

23 June 2011