Learning disbilities: not out of sight

Submitted by Matthew on 8 June, 2011 - 10:42

Like anyone else who watched it, I felt sickened by Panorama’s expose of how people with learning disabilities were tortured by their carers at a private hospital near Bristol (31 May).

As a social worker who works with adults with learning disabilities I review placements like Winterbourne hospital fairly frequently. I’ve never seen anything like the treatment shown by the programme, but my heart often sinks when I walk into these places.

The closure of long-stay hospitals was heralded by many as the end of institutionalisation — and the end of the appalling treatment that went on. But “care in the community” was poorly planned, inadequately funded and later suffered from the purchaser/provider split in local authorities — care homes run by big companies and without the supervision and regulation needed. These placements are typically “warehouses” keeping vulnerable adults far away from the rest of society.

There are many questions about the psychology of the individuals who torture people they are meant to support, but it is well known that a bad culture can be created among carers by low-paid, poor training, over-work, all in a residential setting outside of regular view.

The Care Quality Commission is the regulatory body which oversees inspection for places like Winterbourne. They aim to inspect every two years “unannounced” and “announced”. But these inspections are always known about and the CQC inspection system rarely seems to criticise care homes or hospitals. To really safeguard the vulnerable it is necessary to rock the boat, to say what many of the rich and powerful raking money in from companies like Castlebeck won't want to hear. The system is not designed to allow anyone working in it to be critical.

There are huge problems with how people with learning disabilities are treated, and it is all made worse by increasing cuts and poverty. Most people with learning disabilities, their families and the people who work with them share lots of ideas about the solutions.

But a capitalist system where everyone is encouraged to look out only for themselves or their immediate families, where being a bit different or needing more support is viewed as entirely negative the kind of people we saw in this programme get a very raw end of the deal.

There is no investment in the “less profitable”. That is a waste of human potential.

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