The 31st May 2021 will mark 10 years since the human rights abuses at Winterbourne View were exposed by a BBC panorama programme.
As a result of the programme, the government made a promise to transform the care system in the UK and significantly reduce the number of people with a learning disability and/or autism in assessment and treatment units (ATUs).
Despite the promises made by the government, it appears little has changed. A decade on, Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (Cbf) have revealed in a new casebook that thousands of autistic and learning disabled people are at increased risk of abuse.
The analysis by the charities has revealed that there have been 102,010 recorded reports of restrictive practices in ATUs since October 2018, this equates to one every 12 minutes. Restrictive practices include, physical, chemical and mechanical restraint, as well as solitary confinement.
While these figures are extremely concerning, they’re likely to be just the tip of the iceberg since many institutions do not report their figures, despite being required to do so.
“There should never be the opportunity for another Winterbourne View to be created under the guise of providing care”
While some Winterbourne View survivors have flourished with support in the community, many have experienced long-term side effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and meltdowns.
In a bid to remind the government of the long-term effects abuse can have on an individual, six families have shared personal testimonies of how Winterbourne View has affected their loved ones in a casebook.
Although each story is unique, there is a general consensus across all six families. They feel let down by the government, they question why poor treatment continues to be widespread and why so many vulnerable people are still being admitted to ATUs.
Families live in fear that without specialist support they are at risk of readmission to an inpatient unit. Shockingly, some Winterbourne View survivors are still in inpatients units to this day.
Ann Earley is the mother to Simon, now 47, who was at Winterbourne View hospital between 2010-2011. She said: “When there was a shockwave of horror after the abuse of our sons and daughters was aired on national TV, we naively hoped that the promises made by government would change the system forever. Yet, here we are 10 years on still having to fight.
“For many, the promised support failed to come, not just for our loved ones, but for their families who were also left traumatised by the events. Our loved ones were left struggling within a failing system and some were re-admitted, commencing the sad, sorry cycle again and again.
“The failure to extricate people entrenched within the system is pathetic, but it is the failure to stop others being pulled in that’s even worse. The dangers have been exposed, the failures noted, the appalling damage catalogued but still decision-makers and commissioners condemn our loved ones to a life of misery. Still other settings like Winterbourne Views are built and their beds filled. There should never be the opportunity for another Winterbourne View to be created under the guise of providing care.”
Families have written to the Prime Minister demanding action
Despite Government promises to reduce the number of people locked away in these units, there have been 9,490 admissions since the Transforming Care Programme began in 2015. This is the equivalent to four admissions a day.
There are still more than 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism in these institutions, with the average length of stay being five and half years.
The families have now joined together to write a letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, demanding the government delivers “real, enduring change”. Alongside Mencap and CBF, they are calling for the government to:
- Immediately publish the cross-government action plan on Transforming Care, which was promised in response to a 2019 Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report,9 and ensure it has a strong focus on preventing admission
- Provide ongoing support for people and their families who have been traumatised by the inpatient system
- Properly fund specialist social care in the community to stop more people from being admitted in the first place and get those who are still locked away out.
“It is highly likely that abuse still occurs in many of these institutions today”
Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “It is unforgivable that over the last decade the Government has broken promise after promise which has left people with a learning disability and/or autism stuck living in assessment and treatment units when they should be living at home. For people and their families to have been through such horrors and for so little to have changed is deplorable.
“There has been abuse scandal after abuse scandal in mental health hospitals up and down the country, and it is highly likely that abuse still occurs in many of these institutions today. With restrictive and inhumane treatment reportedly being used against people once every 12 minutes, the Government really needs to address the urgency of this situation.
“We cannot tolerate a situation where more people are locked up simply because they cannot access appropriate support in their community. It’s widely known that improving access to early intervention and personalised support in many cases can be the solution. The Prime Minister must listen to the families of those who were at Winterbourne View and act now before more people are abused and lives destroyed."