Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Veilstone case again highlights need for change in learning disability residential sector

Dan Parton cutAnother case of alleged abuse in a learning disability residential care home highlights the importance of sector reform if such abuse is to be prevented in the future.

It was the news story I’d hoped I wouldn’t hear, but dreaded that I would: another case of alleged abuse at a learning disability residential care home.

This time, the home in question was Veilstone Care Home, which was in Bideford in Devon. The details – those that have been released – suggest this case could be every bit as bad as the Winterbourne View scandal. Here, allegations centre on residents apparently being locked in an unheated, barely furnished ‘quiet room’ overnight.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this case is that one of the residents at Veilstone had previously lived in Winterbourne View.

So far, seven former care workers at Veilstone have been arrested for offences under the Mental Health Act, relating to their alleged ill treatment and abuse of residents.

The allegations of abuse at Veilstone date back to November 2011. It is a testament to the complexity of the case that it is only now that arrests have been made. It should be noted that the company that ran the care home, Atlas Project Team Ltd, is no longer in business.

The outcome of this case will not be known for some time. All seven of those arrested have been bailed until March, as police continue their investigations, which will take “many months”, according to Detective Inspector Steve While from Devon and Cornwall Police.

While this case hasn’t had the publicity of Winterbourne View – it hasn’t had the exposure of a prime-time BBC documentary for a start – it is no less serious and again raises troubling questions for residential care.

It highlights, once again, that the residential sector needs to be reformed. It shows that Winterbourne was not a one-off and points to systemic problems that still need to be addressed.

Of course, the Government has started to tackle these issues as set out in its final response to Winterbourne View last December, where it committed to removing people with learning disabilities who are inappropriately placed in long-stay hospitals, within the following 18 months. At the time, the government said it would produce a progress report in December 2013, which should make interesting reading.

The issue will also be addressed in the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

In addition, the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, is beefing up its inspection regime and will have greater powers to act quickly against failing providers from autumn 2014. The Local Government Association has also just published its stocktake of progress in the Winterbourne View Joint Improvement Programme.

But, there is much that still needs to be done, not only in regulation but also in services. From speaking to people within the sector, it can still be a painfully difficult and lengthy process to get people with learning disabilities – especially those with the label of behaviour that challenges – out of institutions and back into suitable community settings.

Obviously, it is a highly complex picture with many organisations needing to work together to ensure that what is needed is in place and that all are given the opportunity to live in the community.

But all of that simply must be done. I worry that there could be other care homes currently failing in the same way as Winterbourne did and Veilstone is said to have done, that have not been picked up yet by the regulator.

And, if reform of the residential sector is not robust enough, then it is highly likely that other similar cases will emerge in the future.

However, the key priority remains to ensure that the right services in the community are in place and that residential institutions are no longer needed.

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