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August 10, 2012 / politicsbitesize

Private provision is not always better

In 2011 the BBC Panorama investigation Undercover Care: the Abuse Exposed brought to our screens footage of mentally ill young men and women being abused at the hands of staff at Winterbourne View Hospital, Bristol. The viewer was presented with images of adults with learning difficulties being punished using water (one girl was doused with a hose whilst standing outside in the middle of November) and of patients being wrestled to the floor to be restrained. This week sees the delivery of some long awaited justice for these atrocious practices.

On Monday 6th, over a year on from the Panorama exposé, the eleventh and final perpetrator of these insensitive and heinous crimes pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to abuse, and Tuesday 7th saw the publication of a Serious Case Review into the horrific incidents at Winterbourne View Hospital by Dr. Margaret Flynn.  South Gloucestershire’s Adult Safeguarding Board commissioned the review in order to identify what went wrong, how and why and what we can learn from the experience.

One of the main points that comes from the review is that the staff at Winterbourne View Hospital, a private institution run by a company called Castlebeck Ltd, ‘were unregulated support workers who are not subject to any code of conduct or minimum training standard’.

Castlebeck Ltd reportedly had a turnover of £3.7m a year from this hospital and yet the level of care the adults with learning disabilities and autism received was ‘unregulated’ and unprofessional to say the least. As the report goes on to state: ‘[Even] the average weekly fee of £3,500 [charged to the NHS] per patient was no guarantee of patient safety or service quality. As the relative of an ex-patient asked “Surely we can do better than this?”

Surely if the NHS was properly funded and equipped it could provide a better service than this privately run hospital. The report lists a catalogue of problems with Winterbourne View Hospital from absent management and the discontinuity of external support to cruel and incompetent staff, and all this at a cost of £3,500 per week per patient to the UK tax payer. The mind boggles!

The report concludes that: ‘Castlebeck Ltd took the financial rewards without any apparent accountability … The origins of Winterbourne View Hospital were not based on a local population needs assessment. Castlebeck Ltd spotted a business opportunity.’ Dr Margaret Flynn and her colleagues then go on to state that the NHS Commission must also take responsibility for its part in funding such inadequate care provisions. The report recommends that the NHS should have questioned, ‘the adequacy of assessment, treatment and rehabilitation for the patients whose Winterbourne View Hospital places they funded’.

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