The Panorama programme on Winterbourne View was broadcast nearly two months ago now. Amid much outcry, investigations have begun, with the talk of such things never being allowed to happen again. But since then, on the ground, has anything changed for people with learning disabilities in residential facilities? No. But then that’s no surprise.
The government was never going to rush through any legislation off the back of the Winterbourne View scandal, despite it highlighting that change is needed to the learning disability residential care model and to the regime that inspects it.
Change is always a relatively long-term process – the wheels of government never turn quickly – but the learning disability sector cannot afford to let the pressure up on government and the regulator to ensure that change does happen.
From what I’ve heard from contacts in the sector – including service users – the consensus is that there will be another Winterbourne View-style scandal at some point in the near future. And it needs to be stopped. To this end, the National Autistic Society (NAS) handed in a 10,000-signature strong petition to Parliament last week calling on the government to review the inspection process for vulnerable adults living in residential care.
Looking at the major points of the NAS’ petition, all of them struck me as being obvious. For example, having robust and rigorous recruitment procedures and ensuring staff have relevant and specific knowledge of the disabilities they are dealing with to help support individuals appropriately, would seem like pre-requisites for any service provider.
However, as Winterbourne View demonstrated, they aren’t. And they need to be – and the inspection regime needs to ensure that they are, and the government has to give the resources to the Care Quality Commission to ensure inspectors can do this effectively.
Handing in this petition is a good way to keep the issue in the public eye and the pressure on government – that the signatures were garnered in less than two weeks shows the strength of feeling on the issue. But this needs to continue. Whether it is more petitions, online campaigns, news releases or any other ways of generating news and publicity the issue has to be maintained in the public eye.
We are now in holiday season, Parliament is in recess, and the mainstream news agenda has moved on, so it is easy for things to drift, but this must not be allowed to happen. If it does, there is the danger that the agenda for change may also drift, until such time as the next Winterbourne View hits the headlines, and the outcry and promises of change begin all over again.