Government must grasp opportunity for residential care reform writes Dan Parton (29th August 2012)


The recent admission of guilt by all 11 former employees of Winterbourne View, charged with offences over the scandal was welcome, and hopefully will bring some resolution to the people who suffered at their hands.


At the time of writing, those convicted are awaiting sentence, but it looks likely that all will face prison terms. Hopefully, the length of sentences handed down will send a message that hate crimes against people with learning disabilities are completely unacceptable and that perpetrators will face the full force of the criminal justice system.


But the fact that the legal process is drawing to a close does not mean that a line should be drawn and Winterbourne View be consigned to history as just another example of how care can go wrong. Now is the time to ensure that it does not happen again.


Various reports on what went wrong at Winterbourne View have already been published, such as the Care Quality Commission’s review and the Department of Health’s (DH) interim response. In general, these only reiterate what we already knew; that there are failings in the residential hospital and care systems and they need reform.


The recommendations in the reports also say roughly the same thing; essentially, the late Dr Jim Mansell was right in what he set out in his eponymous reports in 1993, and again in 2009. The emphasis should be on building services within the local community, and residential facilities should only be for a small minority of people with learning disabilities, and then the priority should be on moving them back into the community again, as soon as possible.


We just need to make this happen.


This is the crux.  DH’s interim report on Winterbourne View did not go nearly far enough with its 14 national actions to drive up standards of care and support for people with learning disabilities. It will take more than things like voluntary accreditation schemes for providers to ensure that another Winterbourne View does not happen.


This is why the Government’s final report on Winterbourne View, slated for publication later in the year, is so important.


It will be the chance to make the reforms to the system that are clearly needed. It should follow the lines of Mansell’s recommendations. It won’t be easy, and will require money and time, but reform is essential. There is a will within the sector to make the changes but to ensure they happen will require policy direction from central Government.


I don’t want to be writing again in five or so years’ time that, after another residential care abuse scandal, the system has to change. But without the necessary reform, I fear I will be.