It seems that most people with learning disabilities and those who work with them are agreed that change is needed in the sector to ensure another scandal like Winterbourne View doesn’t happen again. But making those changes is easier said than done.
Yesterday I attended a conference called ‘Learning the lessons from Winterbourne View’, where the issues raised by the scandal were debated. Here are some of my initial thoughts on the key issues discussed and the potential way forward.
This blog is only intended to give a brief flavour of the event and some of my key impressions; much more information was presented at the conference than could ever be included in one blog.
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously – although perhaps not, given events at Winterbourne View – Dr Roger Banks, a consultant in the psychiatry of learning disability at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales, made it clear in his opening speech, that people with learning disabilities and behaviour that challenges, are still people. They are the same as anyone else, with the same hopes and aspirations, and this has to be remembered.
But this was not remembered at Winterbourne View. As various speakers emphasised, Winterbourne View was a failure at numerous levels; from the commissioners who purchased the service, to management at Castlebeck, to the staff on the frontline who allegedly perpetrated the abuse.
But it was also a failure of other services, as Rob Greig, chief executive of the NDTi pointed out, people generally only ended up at Winterbourne View after their previous service had failed them.
One of the most powerful speeches at the event was from Janet Brandish from the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties. She said that residential hospitals don’t work for people with learning disabilities. In particular, people with learning disabilities and behaviour that challenges, want to be supported locally and not sent away from their friends and families, as can be the case with hospital placements.
Brandish also called for independent local advocacy for people with learning disabilities, run by people with learning disabilities, to ensure their voices are heard.
This is crucial; as policy and practice, for people with learning disabilities and behaviour that challenges is developed, their views need to be heard and acted on, with services tailored to their needs and wishes – which is surely the central aim of personalisation.
But what also came through was an apparent groundswell of opinion, throughout the sector – from think-tanks to service users and frontline professionals – that change needs to happen and it needs to happen now. The opportunity must not be missed. As Terry Bryan, the original whistleblower at Winterbourne View said, we need action, not rhetoric.
Effective change and the improvements we want to see will require work at all levels; from government driving policy, through commissioners working more effectively with providers, to frontline staff receiving better training, among many other things.
But change will not be easy; it will take time because it is not just about changing services, it is also about changing attitudes and behaviours. At all levels, people working with people with learning disabilities and behaviour that challenges, need to commit to the principals that they are the same as everyone else and have a right to an ‘ordinary’ life.
That wide-ranging change is needed was not disputed. It is now up to everyone, right across the system, to ensure that it does happen; nobody wants to be at an event in 10 years’ time, discussing the same issues after another television programme expose.