UK Government Orders Immediate Enquiry Following the Abuse, Harassment and Violence against People with Challenging Behaviour in Bristol
On 30 May the BBC Panorama programme revealed a series of abuse in residential care for people with intellectual disabilities and autism near Bristol, UK. The programme showed residents, labelled as having challenging behaviour, being kicked, violently restrained, drenched in water by the care staff, and treated in ways which arguably amount to torture. Winterbourne Unit, where the programme was secretly filmed, is owned by a private company which receives 3,500 pounds per week from public funding for each person referred to them by the National Health Service. The same company, Castlebeck, runs 56 similar institutions for people with intellectual disabilities in the UK.
Revelations of abuse of disabled people in residential care are by no means new. Not so long ago Europe was shocked by the treatment of a young man in a residential institution in Holland and many will still remember the horrifying images from institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. This most recent case in the UK resulted among other in the suspension of thirteen employees, arrest of four people and a Government ordered enquiry into the abuse at Winterbourne Unit. The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which failed to act on information about abuse by a former staff member, apologised for its failure and scheduled a set of unannounced inspection visits of similar units.
The response to this case and similar cases from other European countries has been to call for better monitoring and inspection of residential institutions. However, while adequate monitoring and inspection might have stopped or prevented residents from suffering abuse, they would have done nothing to ensure they receive the quality of life and care they are entitled to. Instead of placing disabled people in residential care, the relevant authorities should provide appropriate support services to the individuals and their families, so they can live as independently as possible in the community. Even though Winterbourne Unit was advertised as an 'assessment hospital' for people with challenging behaviour, the reality is that most residents spent over a year living there. The large amounts of public funding that went to companies like Castlebeck, so they could 'treat' people with challenging behaviour, would have been much better spent on person centred community-based services.
The case of the Bristol-based institution, and the violence suffered by its residents, is all the more alarming given the cuts to independent living services faced by disabled people across Europe. In countries such as the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Hungary, but also Denmark, Sweden and Norway, disabled people and their families are losing the services which enabled them to live independently or with their families, to work and receive education. As a result of cuts to public spending, many disabled people, especially those with higher support needs, will be forced back into residential care. The Winterbourne Unit case should serve as a reminder to Governments across Europe of dangers of relying on the institutional care model. It is about time that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires countries to ensure full inclusion and participation of disabled people in society, stops being just a piece of paper.
For additional comment, please contact Jamie Bolling, ENIL Executive Director, at email@example.com.
BBC Panorama, 'Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed', http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011pwt6.