Inspectors have been called in to private hospitals that care for people with learning disabilities after exposure of a regime of shocking abuse by staff at a unit run by one of Britain’s leading care companies.
The chief executive of the company, Castlebeck, said he was ashamed of what had gone on at the unit. Thirteen employees have been suspended and police have arrested three men and one woman as part of an ongoing investigation.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said he was shocked by the revelations and had authorised a series of random, unannounced inspections of similar units by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the sector regulator which has itself apologised for failing to act on earlier tipoffs about the Castlebeck facility. Critics of the government’s NHS reforms will seize on the implications for the proposal to allow “any qualified provider” to supply healthcare in the same way as in social care, where private companies and charities dominate the market.
The regime of abuse at the Winterbourne View unit, in Hambrook, near Bristol, was exposed by the BBC Panorama programme. An undercover reporter was taken on as an unqualified support worker and filmed secretly for four weeks as some of his fellow workers routinely slapped and kicked patients, pinning them to the floor and drenching them with cold water.
The unit is purportedly an assessment hospital for adults with profound learning disabilities or autism, but most of the patients had lived there for more than a year – each at a cost to the public purse of £3,500 a week – and there appeared to have been little activity or stimulation.
In one scene in the programme, a male support worker seems to goad a female patient to throw herself out of a second-floor window. He says: “Go on, do it now I’m here. I’d love to see you try it: you will go flying. … When you hit the floor, do you reckon you will make a thud or a splat?”
In another scene, a second male support worker is seen to act as a Nazi camp commandant, repeatedly slapping a patient across the face with a pair of leather gloves and saying: “Nein, nein, nein!”
Staff, sometimes with qualified nurses watching, used forms of restraint that an expert described as closer to martial arts rather than any approved technique. A female patient is seen pinned beneath a chair for more than 30 minutes with one support worker sitting in the chair and keeping his foot on her wrist, while a second worker kneels on her legs.
Panorama focused on Winterbourne View after being approached by Terry Bryan, a former senior nurse at the unit who had tried and failed to raise his concerns within Castlebeck and with the CQC. The regulator said it recognised that “there were indications of problems at this hospital which should have led us to taking action sooner”.
Lee Reed, Castlebeck’s chief executive since January, said he was “personally ashamed” to be part of an organisation that had allowed such abuse to occur and had apologised unreservedly to the patients and their families.
Castlebeck specialises in care of people with learning disabilities and has 56 units and a £90m turnover. Steps have been taken by safeguarding agencies to protect the patients at Winterbourne View, some of whom have been moved elsewhere, and the unit is barred from taking any further admissions.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010