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Panorama abuse scandal: Care regulator ‘is not fit for purpose’

Disabled people’s organisations and leading disabled activists say the care watchdog is “unfit for purpose”, following a BBC investigation into abuse at a private “hospital” for people with learning difficulties.

Activists have also called for action to stop people with learning difficulties being placed in large institutional settings like Winterbourne View, the hospital featured in this week’s Panorama documentary. They believe such placements are being made as cost-cutting measures.

A BBC undercover reporter filmed slaps, kicks and other physical assaults, violent threats, and repeated bullying, mocking, humiliation and other ill-treatment of “patients” with learning difficulties at the hospital in Hambrook, near Bristol.

Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, has written to the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, describing her “shock” and “horror” while watching the documentary.

Newman said she believed the scandal showed the Care Quality Commission (CQC) was “inept” and “unfit for purpose” because of its failure to act over concerns that were raised last year by a whistleblower.

Newman said the use of “hospital” facilities like Winterbourne View for people with learning difficulties had “no place in our modern day society”.

She said local authorities were opting for such placements because they were funded through the NHS, rather than their own budgets.

She wrote: “UKDPC strongly urges the minister to initiate an immediate review and to consult actively with disabled people’s organisations to move towards the closure of these institutions as quickly as possible.”

The Department of Health declined to comment on the use of such hospitals.

Newman also said the Panorama documentary showed that the rights of the service-users at the hospital under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were “being breached on a daily basis”.

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said the abuse uncovered was “appalling” and “horrific”, and added: “There have been so many cases. [Every time] there is an inquiry and we are promised that it will never happen again. And it does.”

Lee called for “some high-profile sackings” and said that people with learning difficulties themselves need to be in a position to “knock some heads together” to sort out what is “a very big mess”.

He also said the case raised serious concerns over the government’s push for the private sector to play a larger part in providing care services, as the private sector “cannot be trusted”.

And he called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use the case in its report on how the UK has implemented the UN convention.

He also called for stricter sentences for such abuse and for the bosses of local authorities responsible for failures in such cases to be held accountable.

He said he agreed with UKDPC that the case showed the CQC was “not fit for purpose”.

And he called for Castlebeck – the company that runs the hospital and 55 other such institutions – to be stripped of all of its public contracts.

Another leading activist, Michael Ratcliffe, former co-chair of The National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, called for CQC to be “disbanded”.

Ratcliffe, himself a survivor of institutional abuse, said: “It is obviously not doing its job right. The top people should lose their jobs. They have failed us.”

He said the latest scandal showed again the need for “all types of advocacy” in care settings, as well as proper training for staff.

He added: “As long as these organisations put profit as their first priority and people with learning difficulties as their third or fourth priority then they are going to carry on happening.”

Care services minister Paul Burstow said the abuse uncovered by Panorama was “shocking” and that he had “ordered a thorough examination of the roles of both CQC and the local authorities in this case”.

A CQC spokesman said it had made an “unforgivable error, a terrible mistake” in failing to follow up the whistleblower’s allegations, but that did not mean it was not fit for purpose.

He said the watchdog had taken action in “hundreds and hundreds” of cases across the country against poor providers.

Winterbourne View “cares” for 24 people with learning difficulties and describes itself as “a purpose designed acute service, offering assessment and intervention and support for people with learning disabilities, complex needs and challenging behaviour”.

Lee Reed, Castlebeck’s chief executive, said he was “shocked, disgusted and ashamed” by what he had seen on Panorama.

Castlebeck has suspended 13 members of staff and two managers, commissioned an independent review of its own operations, is reviewing all patient care records at its 56 facilities, and has asked an advocacy group to “undertake a review of the patient experience at all our hospitals”.

Avon and Somerset police said four staff members – three men and a woman – had been arrested on suspicion of mistreatment of patients under the Mental Capacity Act and assault. All four have been released on police bail.