A local authority was told that adults with learning difficulties were being abused at a private hospital more than seven months before the BBC screened an investigation into the scandal.
South Gloucestershire Council, along with other agencies represented on the local safeguarding adults board, appears to have taken no serious action to investigate the claims made by a whistleblower until the BBC’s Panorama programme notified it of the results of its investigation months later.
A BBC undercover reporter filmed slaps, kicks and other physical assaults, violent threats, and repeated bullying, mocking and humiliation of “patients” with learning difficulties at the Winterbourne View hospital in Hambrook, near Bristol. Several of the service-users were seen being wrestled and pinned to the floor by staff.
The whistleblower first emailed detailed allegations to a hospital manager on 11 October last year, and the allegations were passed to the council on 28 October.
At some stage in November, the council informed the care regulator – the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – and confirmed that it would be holding a multi-agency “safeguarding meeting” to examine the allegations.
Membership of this safeguarding adults board includes representatives of the council, the police, the NHS and the CQC.
But this safeguarding meeting did not take place until 1 February this year. It is unclear what action the board took after the meeting, who was present, or why it took so long to discuss the allegations.
South Gloucestershire Council has so far declined to comment.
The CQC, though, has apologised after admitting that it failed to reply to an email from the whistleblower on 6 December, who said he was frustrated at the lack of action over his allegations.
The commission also received a follow-up phone call from the whistleblower on 31 December, and possibly a third call or email.
The CQC has also admitted inspecting the hospital three times over the last two years and failing to spot any abuse. The last inspection took place last September, just three weeks before the whistleblower emailed his manager with his concerns.
A CQC spokesman said it was not clear whether the inspector talked to service-users privately, or interviewed them in front of staff.
Since the BBC revealed its findings, the CQC has carried out three unannounced inspections of the hospital and barred it from admitting any new patients. It is also reviewing all the services run by Castlebeck, the company that runs Winterbourne View, and has launched an internal review of its own actions.
2 June 2011