People with Learning Difficulties Abused: Report
By Michael Holden
LONDON — Checks will be carried out on all services providing care to Britons with learning difficulties after two independent bodies said on Wednesday there were “serious concerns” about their treatment.
The warning came after an investigation by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) into Cornwall NHS Trust found what they called unacceptable standards of care including evidence of institutional abuse.
“Let us first be clear we are not saying that the abusive behavior we found in Cornwall is happening everywhere,” said a joint statement from Anna Walker, the Healthcare Commission’s chief executive, and David Behan, CSCI chief inspector.
“But sadly Cornwall is not the only service where serious allegations have been made in recent months.”
The Cornwall inquiry said there had been serious failings at Budock Hospital near Falmouth, which treated 18 inpatients, and at four children’s units and 46 houses occupied by people with learning difficulties.
Abuse ranged from physical to the misuse of people’s money,
The report said there was evidence some staff were hitting, dragging and pushing residents. Staff were also reported to have withheld food and given people cold showers.
A number of staff, although well-intentioned, were not properly trained or using best practices.
There was an over-reliance on medication to control behavior, and an illegal and prolonged use of restraint.
One person spent 16 hours a day tied to a bed or wheelchair by staff in the mistaken belief it was for the patient’s own protection, the report found.
A number of staff have since been disciplined and a ward at Budock closed down.
“The failings which have been brought to light are shocking and shameful. There are no excuses,” said Lezli Boswell, the trust’s new chief executive who took over in May.
“I cannot and will not attempt to justify what has happened as it is inexcusable. My job now, as the new chief executive, is to turn the services around.”
The Healthcare Commission has recommended that Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt place the Cornwall Trust under special measures.
It also said it would work with the CSCI to examine all NHS and independent providers of care for those with learning difficulties.
“Instances of abuse can be symptomatic of services that have been neglected for too long,” the joint statement said.
“They are the most serious sign of a problem, but our concerns are much broader. We detect a widespread lack of understanding about the rights and needs of people with learning disabilities.”
More than a million people in England, about 2 percent of the population, are estimated to have learning disabilities.
“It is not acceptable to overlook the needs of these vulnerable people because they rarely capture the headlines or in some cases are unable to champion their own rights,” the statement added.