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Winterbourne View SCR: Put social workers at the heart of care for adults with learning disabilities

Following today’s publication of the serious case review on Winterbourne View, the private hospital where abuse of patients with learning disabilities was uncovered through secret filming by the BBC Panorama programme, BASW has called for services to be localised and for social workers to be integral to their provision. BASW also reiterates the need for whistle-blowers, like nurse Terry Bryan, to be supported and protected by their employers.

A key point made by the report is that, “Hospitals for adults with learning disabilities and autism should not exist but they do. While they exist, they should be regarded as high risk services”. Sending people with learning disabilities to large institutions hundreds of miles away from their families is commonplace, and BASW supports Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation’s Out of Sight campaign for this practice to end.

Commenting on the serious case review, BASW professional officer Joe Godden said:

“This is an example of why having a free press is so important. It was thanks to good quality campaigning journalism, alerted by whistle-blower Terry Bryan, that this terrible abuse was uncovered. Margaret Flynn’s excellent report makes for shocking reading.

“BASW is extremely concerned that Mr Bryan’s attempts to alert the relevant authorities, including the Care Quality Commission, fell on deaf ears until the damning video footage was released. We hope that in future, health and social care staff throughout the country are taken seriously when they raise their concerns about any abuse of vulnerable patients.

“The report highlights the importance of providing local services for adults with learning disabilities, based on a social model of disability rather than a medical one.

Hospitals, regardless of what their statements of purpose say, operate on a medical model. Provision must be local, small scale, commissioned by and involving social workers in the quality assurance process at every stage.

“The local involvement of social workers – a named social worker for each resident, family, local safeguarding boards, police, medical services and where there is no family, an advocate, would massively improve quality. Responsibility and adequate funding for providing services for people with a learning disability and autism, including those with dual diagnosis, should be given to social service departments. Social workers must be integral to the commissioning process and be given a statutory role to do so.

“The cost per week of a placement at Winterbourne View was £3,500. If that money was invested in high quality locally based support, it would constitute a very significant resource.

“Winterbourne View was also staffed mainly by unqualified support staff, who are of course not registered. The Government has ducked out of requiring care staff to be registered, saying it is too expensive. But what price the suffering of the patients and their families involved at Winterbourne View and at potentially thousands of other institutions across the country?

“An understanding of the social model very much includes understanding the impact of how institutions always are in danger of becoming oppressive and abusive. Winterbourne View was an atrocious case and the serious case review should be compulsory reading for all involved in the provision of services for people with a learning disability and autism. Winterbourne View was sadly One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest brought to life”.