Last week, I watched people with a learning disability, like me, suffer degrading abuse at the hands of the people paid to care for them in private hospitals. And it broke my heart.
Another Winterbourne View right in front of our eyes
It’s now nearly eight years ago to the day since the abuse of people with a learning disability at Winterbourne View was exposed by Panorama. We were told by government that it would never happen again. Yet, we’ve seen another Winterbourne View right in front of our eyes.
"I will never be able to forget hearing the screams from the young woman, Alex, as she was tortured by the male staff at Whorlton Hall. With each scream, I could feel her pain. I cried myself to sleep after watching the programme because I know that what I saw was not an isolated incident".
What we saw on our screens last week was the outright disgusting bullying of people with learning disabilities that is all too often accepted in our society. I recognised the playground taunts, the mocking, and the laughter that I experienced when I was at school. But what has shocked many viewers is how quickly bullying tipped into cruelty and abuse.
No one should ever be brutally restrained, held down by six members of staff, like people were in Whorlton Hall. No one should ever be tormented and provoked. No animal would be treated like that, so why treat a person with a learning disability in that way?
I will never be able to forget hearing the screams from the young woman, Alex, as she was tortured by the male staff at Whorlton Hall. With each scream, I could feel her pain. I cried myself to sleep after watching the programme because I know that what I saw was not an isolated incident. It’s happening to people with learning disabilities trapped in private hospitals, often funded by the NHS, across the country every day.
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The government's empty promises
The government promised to move people out of these hospitals after the Winterbourne View abuse scandal. Yet, around 2,300 people with learning disabilities and/or autism are still locked in similar hospitals, often far from home where they are trapped, at risk of being abused for months and in some cases even years.
Families are powerless to get their loved ones out of these “modern day asylums”. I am angry that the government has still not taken the action needed to get people with learning disabilities out of these hospitals and back home with the community support they need and deserve.
At Mencap, we have long been warning the government that there would be another Winterbourne View abuse scandal. Last week’s Panorama shows that things haven’t changed.
I have just one thing to say to the government: no more reviews, no more reports, it’s time to stop the talking and just get on with closing these hospitals down. It is now the time to invest in the proper care packages for people back in their communities so that every person with a learning disability can lead a good life, free from abuse, like me and you.
It’s not a crime to have a learning disability, so why do people with a learning disability continue to be locked up? No one should ever be locked up in hospitals and put at risk of being treated worse than an animal. It’s time the government acted, and acted now. We’re human too.
Ciara Lawrence is Campaigns Support Officer for Mencap.