I’m sure anyone who watched Panorama tonight would have been appalled at the systematic and violent abuse of adults within a Castlebeck facility supposedly offering care and rehabilitation for people with learning disabilities and complex needs. The Castlebeck ‘hospital’ (Winterbourne in Bristol) secretely filmed is a locked unit housing 24 adults in conditions in which there was nothing for them to do except wait for the next round of abuse from staff, which included assaults, cold fully clothed showers, water poured on people outside during Winter and constant threats and intimidation. Arrests have now been made. This ‘care’ cost the taxpayer around £3000 per patient per week. Inspectors, CQC, failed to intervene despite three allegations of abuse from a senior nurse and a recent conviction for a staff member caught abusing a patient. They have apologised and propose to carry out 150 unannounced hospital inspections. Ironically, Castlebeck boasts it is the winner of the HSJ/ Nursing Times Top 100 Healthcare Best Employers award 2010.
Deeply depressing. How many Winterbournes are out there amongst the remains of the UK’s long stay institutions? No form of care and support is immune from abuse, but the Castlebeck horror story illustrates the real risks in institutional care which is locked away from view and makes no attempt to value people as individuals or to help people aspire to ordinary, independent living. The perceived risks of support being led more by individuals themselves and of community-based support such as Shared Lives, should be balanced against the protection they offer from institutionalisation.
This shocking case also illustrates the need which is common across social care – for everyone to have an independent advocate to whom they can have access whenever they want and who will speak up for their rights come what may. Advocacy simply isn’t part of the current system and, at a time when care and support is supposedly being reformed to give people ever greater choice, the decreasing availability of support to make choices is a gaping wound in our sector.
Something that has left a really bad taste for me though, is not just the failures of the social care sector, but also the failures of the BBC team investigating Castlebeck. Their undercover reporter filmed people who had nobody to turn to, being the victims of criminal abuse and violence. Being in possession of a hidden camera does not put you outside of the law and the duties you have to your fellow human beings. The untrained, uncaring ‘careworkers’ of Castlebeck forgot not only that the people they were paid to support were humans, but just as importantly, they forgot their own humanity. Similarly, the reporter saw himself as a journalist, and forgot that he is also a citizen. The senior, experienced nurses and supervisors of Castlebeck ignored or actively aided and abetted the abuse. The young reporter appears to have been similarly left without guidance by his producers. Had he been filming for a few days, a lack of immediate action may have been excusable, but to stand by and fail to even object for five weeks? The BBC carried on filming, telling us how much they were suffering as they watched the abuse. As soon as they had witnessed widespread, ongoing abuse, they should have switched their cameras off and picked up the phone to the police.