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

Have things really changed since Winterbourne View?

Dan Parton cutA damning inspection report by the Care Quality Commission has found an assessment and treatment service that met none of its core standards. So post-Winterbourne View, has anything really changed for people with learning disabilities?

Last month, I blogged on the Veilstone Care Home, where alleged abuse of people with learning disabilities had taken place, saying how it demonstrated how important it is that the sector is reformed.

Judging by a report out today from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), this reform cannot come quickly enough. So I apologise if what follows seems familiar, but I feel that it needs to be repeated – and kept being repeated until real change occurs.

The CQC’s report into Slade House in Headington, Oxfordshire, found that the assessment and treatment facility met none of the 10 essential standards to which it was supposed to be working. Not one. Remember, these are not meant to be benchmarks; they are the minimum that services should be providing.

Six standards required immediate enforcement action, including the care and welfare of people who use services, and the safety and suitability of the premises and of the equipment.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust – note it is NHS, not private sector – which runs Slade House, has said that it is working to address the problems at the unit and has already made significant changes. I hope that it has.

Now, I don’t imagine that Slade House is the only facility that is failing. When the CQC undertook a selected programme of inspections of learning disability facilities in the wake of Winterbourne View, a good percentage did not meet all of the essential standards it checked and I doubt that all facilities in the sector do now.

This case echoes anecdotal evidence I have heard about other assessment and treatment services, where little treatment is happening, and where people get stuck for years, rather than them being the temporary placement intended.

Sadly, it appears that, more than 2½ years since the abuse at Winterbourne View was exposed, little has changed in the sector. Much like the residential care of older people, we periodically have stories about care failings – sometimes involving abuse – and there follows outcry, reports, targets for change and yet little changes on the ground and the fundamental problems that existed in the sector then remain.

The government started to tackle these issues 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, but I wonder if this target will be met. A progress report was promised for December, which should make interesting reading.

The really frustrating part is that, as has been said before by many people more learned than myself, we know what best practice looks like, it just has to become standard practice, and that is the tricky part.

But there are moves that could make a difference, such as the Driving Up Quality Code – a provider-led voluntary scheme where services pledge to have certain standards of care beyond minimum standards in their services. This scheme is to be applauded.

To reiterate what I said previously, we face a highly complex situation 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 complexity simply must be tackled because facilities are still failing and if reform of the residential sector is not robust enough, other cases will inevitably emerge.

This is about people’s lives and they should have the best quality care available – just as anyone else would expect.

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