Police and council officers had at least six chances to investigate concerns about the safety of disabled people in a private “hospital” in the two years before the abusive regime was finally exposed by the BBC.
The Panorama investigation uncovered serious allegations of abuse at Winterbourne View, a private hospital for people with learning difficulties, near Bristol.
But it emerged this week that there were at least seven “alerts” notifying the authorities of safety concerns at Winterbourne View between October 2009 and August 2010, nine months before the documentary was aired in May this year.
Six of the alerts were dealt with by the council’s safeguarding team and investigated by Avon and Somerset police, while a seventh was investigated by Castlebeck, the company that ran Winterbourne View. At least three of the alerts reportedly related to the use of restraint or physical abuse by hospital staff.
South Gloucestershire Council has already faced criticism for apparently failing to follow-up concerns raised by a whistleblower in October 2010.
But the new evidence raises fresh questions over why the council failed to uncover the alleged abuse that was later exposed by Panorama, despite the number of safeguarding concerns raised during those two years.
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesman admitted that the referrals go back even further than October 2009.
He said the council received 19 safeguarding referrals between the opening of Winterbourne View in 2006 and 12 May 2011, when it learned about the Panorama programme.
Of these 19 referrals, 17 came from managers at Winterbourne View and two from charge nurses, while 15 concerned the behaviour of members of staff.
The council spokesman said a serious case review set up in the wake of the Panorama documentary would “look in detail at each of these alerts and consider the appropriateness of the multi-agency safeguarding response to them”, while the council had also launched its own internal investigation.
Avon and Somerset police declined to comment because of its ongoing investigation into the alleged abuse at Winterbourne View, as well as the serious case review, which is examining the actions of all the organisations involved.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates health and adult social care in England, said it was passed details of all seven of the alerts.
A CQC spokeswoman said it was “the job of the local authority or the police to investigate these incidents and to hold the provider or staff to account if necessary”.
But she added: “The issue at Winterbourne View was not what was known and reported, but what was concealed – the horrific abuse of vulnerable people which was exposed by weeks of secret filming by Panorama.”
CQC said that these kind of safeguarding referrals were “shocking but sadly not atypical” of such facilities. Last year, CQC received 11,000 “notifications” of serious injury, and nearly 3,500 notifications of police investigations.
Castlebeck has now announced the closure of three of its care facilities for people with learning difficulties, including Winterbourne View.
This week, the company agreed to close Arden Vale, near Coventry, another “hospital” that provides “care” for people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions, after CQC served a legal notice proposing to remove Arden Vale’s registration.
CQC had raised “serious concerns” about care standards at Arden Vale, including the inappropriate use of restraint, and took action when it saw no evidence of the necessary improvements.
Last week, a Castlebeck residential home on the edge of Bristol, Rose Villa, was closed following a string of concerns about care standards and the suspension of four staff members.
Castlebeck said it was “vigorously addressing concerns that have been raised about some of our services”.
It has also received formal warning notices relating to two other care facilities, Croxton Lodge in Melton Mowbray and Cedar Vale in Nottingham, where CQC has again raised concerns about the potential safety of people with learning difficulties.
18 August 2011