Panorama abuse scandal: Questions raised over new hospital ‘audit’


The government has agreed plans for a national audit of hospitals for people with learning difficulties, just five years after a similar investigation was carried out by two care regulators.

The audit was approved by care services minister Paul Burstow in the wake of a BBC investigation into abuse at Winterbourne View, a private hospital near Bristol.

Burstow said: “People deserve to receive safe and effective care. That’s what we expect from every care provider.

“I have confirmed with CQC [the Care Quality Commission]that they should undertake a series of unannounced inspections of services for people with learning disabilities.

“These unannounced inspections into care for people with learning disabilities will help inform future policy and focus attention on the 7/24 care obligation all providers have.”

But the Department of Health (DH) and CQC both appeared to have been unaware that a similar audit was carried out only five years ago, in the wake of another abuse scandal. Neither has been able to comment on why another audit is necessary so soon after the last one.

The Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection – the predecessors of the current regulator, the CQC – announced the previous national audit of learning disability healthcare services in 2006, following their joint investigation into abuse at a Cornish NHS trust.

Many of the allegations at that trust were similar to those uncovered by this week’s investigation for the BBC’s Panorama.

The report in 2006 into “years of abusive practices” at homes and hospitals run by Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust found service-users had been hit, kicked, over-medicated, mocked, deprived of food and given cold showers and been subject to “over-zealous or premature use of restraint”.

Rob Greig, chief executive of the National Development Team for Inclusion and the government’s former national director for learning difficulties, said that the “institutional nature of learning disability hospitals fosters a climate where abuse is a high risk”.

He said the financial crisis was threatening to reverse the progress made over the last 30 years towards ending institutional provision for people with learning difficulties.

And he warned that CQC budget cuts had reduced its “learning disability expertise” and its “capacity to undertake inspections”.

He added: “Whilst abuse in institutional provision is a long-standing problem, stronger commissioning, robust advocacy and more effective regulation are key components of preventing abuse – and current government policies risk all three being weakened.”

Meanwhile, a group of young disabled campaigners announced this week that they are to launch their own investigation into disability hate crime.

The investigation by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers network of more than 300 young disabled people will examine how, when and where young people are experiencing hate crime, how offences are being dealt with and how to ensure that incidents are reported.

The investigation was sparked by the “bullying, intimidation and verbal abuse” of a disabled student by university security staff last year, and the poor handling of her case by the university.

2 June 2011