Winterbourne View: self-advocates say ‘acid test’ will be action on hospitals


Leading members of the self-advocacy movement have given a guarded response to the government’s report into the Winterbourne View abuse scandal.

They spoke out after the government pledged to move hundreds of people with learning difficulties and “challenging behaviour” out of hospitals and into new homes in the community, and promised that service-providers would be held accountable for abuse that takes place in their facilities.

The Department of Health’s final report into the abuse that took place at Winterbourne View, near Bristol, also promises improved access to advocacy, tougher inspections of hospitals and care homes, and new guidance on the use of physical “restraint” by staff.

Gavin Harding, co-chair of the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, said he believed the most important recommendation was to hold service-providers – and their directors and senior managers – accountable for the care their organisations provided.

He said he believed the report sent “very strong, powerful messages” and would “put the wind up these providers”, but that he also wanted to see social workers, nurses and social services directors legally “held to account” if they ignored abuse of adults with learning difficulties, as already happens if they fail to act on allegations of child abuse.

Harding also raised concerns about whether there would be enough funding to put the government’s plans into action, both in finding people new homes and in improving advocacy.

He said: “It is all right saying, ‘Close everything by 2014,’ but where is the budget going to come from? That worries me.”

Harding said he was concerned that some local authorities would now take people currently cared for in hospitals and move them to new placements in the community, but without the right support.

He said: “It is going to be harder to regulate in somebody’s home where they are out in the community. Who is going to regulate them? I am not saying it is not a good idea, it is, but you have to think about the impact.

“Some local authorities could be trusted, but trusting a local authority is like trusting Robert Maxwell with your pension.”

And he said he also had real concerns about people being “stigmatised” in the way they were during the “care in the community” resettlement programme of the 1980s.

Harding also called for the Care Quality Commission and local authorities to introduce new three-digit emergency numbers that people with learning difficulties could call to report abuse.

Wendy Perez, another leading self-advocate, who has her own training and consultancy company, See Me As Me, welcomed plans to move people out of the hospitals and into their local communities, but added: “They have been saying that for years and they have not done it yet.

“There have been reports and reports and they have not done it. They have just said it and no action.”

She added: “I think they should look at what people want and do what they want and not have so many people put into institutions and have more [living in]communities.”

Perez also welcomed plans to hold service-providers to account for abuse that happens within their services, and added: “They don’t listen to the people that use services. They try and cover things up.

“They try and say to families, ‘it’s fine, it’s fine,’ when the families know it’s not fine.”

Gary Bourlet, who founded Britain’s first People First organisation in London in 1984, said many of the recommendations in the government’s report were similar to those made in Labour’s Valuing People white paper in 2001.

And he pointed out that the kind of abuse seen at Winterbourne View was not restricted to hospitals, but also took place in residential homes, hostels and day centres.

He warned of the funding problems facing many self-advocacy organisations. “At the moment advocacy is not being funded very well and a lot of them are going under. It is a big concern to me because I have been doing advocacy for over 30 years.”

Andrew Lee, director of People First Self Advocacy, said he believed the “acid test” of the government’s report would be whether its recommendations were acted on.

He pointed out that similar reports had followed investigations into the abuse of patients with learning difficulties at Budock Hospital in Cornwall, in 2006, and at Orchard Hill, another of the last NHS long-stay hospitals, in 2007.

He added: “The same promises were made and yet Winterbourne View happened, so you can understand me being sceptical.”

13 December 2012