A former advocate for older people in care homes has said she was “not surprised” by the scenes of gratuitous violence on people with learning disabilities shown on last nights Panorama programme: Undercover care: The Abuse Exposed - the truth about carers out of control.
Gill Greaves established the charity Corral - Community of Oldham Relatives and Residents, Advocacy and Advice for Life [*] - over a decade ago after she was left angered by her mother’s treatment in an older people’s home.
Last night she sat down and watched Panorama at the end of which she was left distinctly unimpressed saying it “lacked analysis, failed to provide solutions, signpost families to support groups or raise the need for more rigorous staff training and decent pay rates.”
The programme lasted an hour and viewers watched some distressing scenes. Winterbourne View is a specialist residential hospital for people with learning disabilities and autism just outside Bristol.
It’s one of a number across the country run for profit by Castlebeck and a place doesn’t come cheap with fees of £3,500 a week charged. Not that the staff at the lower level see anything like such a sum with an average wage of £16,000 per annum.
Such a low wage though can’t be used as an excuse for what some of those at Winterbourne were shown doing - and so its good to know that in, at least, some cases their average wage looks like it will drop to about a tenner a week when they rightly get sent down.
Slapping disturbed, confused and as far as could be seen non-violent patients was horrible to watch. Pouring water and leaving some patients outside in the freezing cold weather and generally intimidating people who couldn’t fight back - even by telling their visiting parents who didn’t want to believe they were being abused - was appalling.
And when lower level managers witnessed such incidents the unwillingness to take action by riding the institution of what were rightly described, by outside experts asked by the programme makers to comment, as “torturers” left a sickening feeling.
None of which should take away the excellent work of the Panorama reporter who captured on camera such scenes during his five weeks of undercover work at the hospital. Fair play to him.
Much less so for Castlebeck. Terry Bryan had been senior nurse at the hospital. He quit at what he witnessed, including patients being frequently sat on and restrained. Bryan wrote to the company, and considering over the last year a number of its carers have been prosecuted, you might have thought they’d take notice and action.
When they didn’t he wrote to the regulatory body - the Care Quality Commission - in fact Bryan contacted them not once, not twice but three times. They didn’t bother to get back to him, preferring to rely on their own two inspections of Winterbourne over the last year that - surprise, surprise - showed there was nothing to worry about.
“We made a mistake,” said the CQM spokesperson. Meanwhile Castlebeck have appointed a new chief executive - one wonders if the last one was sacked or made redundant with a decent payout to mask the pain - and he could only “fully apologise.” Things would be better in the future.
Philipa Bragman, the director of CHANGE, a national human rights organisation led by disabled people, hopes that for the likes of Winterbourne there isn’t a future. She was left “horrified” by what she witnessed and is convinced that the hospital won’t be unique as “these kind of institutions breed a level of abuse as they are dehumanizing environments. Newly recruited staff that want to challenge bad practices face an almost impossible task. It was terrible to see the levels of collusion.
What worries me is that Panorama showed a clip from a 1981 programme. A Silent Minority revealed shocking examples of brutality against people with learning disabilities. Thirty years later we see similar scenes on our television screens.”
So if Silent Minority failed to stop the abuse then will the Panorama programme three decades later? Gill Greaves doesn’t think so.
Firstly because she’s seen for herself “abuse in care homes” and “how it’s covered up” and so was not “in the least surprised by what I witnessed.”
But also because she believes the programme lacked any serious depth or analysis, or just as importantly any solutions even for families who feel their loved ones in similar institutions are being abused.
“The programme left you feeling helpless. There was no information about solutions for other people. Organisations that can help are few and far between, and as third sector organisations they struggle for funds, but that’s no reason not to mention them.
Are Panorama going into every home? It’s great that a few people will be helped, but where were the points about the need for more rigorous staff training and decent pay rates? God help those who need care in the future.”
* Greaves was asked not to “visit so often” her mother after she raised concerns at the lack of care, general neglect and unexplained injuries - including what later transpired to be a broken hip. Looking for a new care home she visited 58 and calculated that only four were “up to scratch.”
Over a four-year period with Corral she estimates to have helped over 100 families and older people - “I think we had a positive outcome in every case” she says proudly. However when funds dried up Greaves, after exhausting much of her families savings, was forced to shut Corral down and seek employment elsewhere. Today she works with disadvantaged children on a cycling project.