Anyone who saw and was appalled by the disgusting treatment received by people with serious learning disabilities at Castlebeck’s Winterbourne View hospital must surely welcome the response by the government to review how and where people with learning disabilities are treated. But carrying out the review needs to take into account not just the views of professionals, but also those of the individuals and their carers. No treatment about me, without me, is a slogan Lansley was fond of quoting, so whilst I am pleased to hear there will be a review, I will only extend a cautious welcome.
One of the recommendations from the Winterbourne inquiry was that people with learning disabilities should be treated nearer to home. Whilst people get all worked up about acute hospital care if it cannot be performed by a local hospital, commissioners don’t blink an eyelid about dispatching people with learning disabilities all over the country. A remedy for that requires investment to ensure we have appropriate assessment and treatment centres, psychiatric intensive care units, and rehabilitation units available. Whereas hundreds of millions of pounds are invested in flash new acute super hospitals, those who require mental health or learning disability treatments are frequently at the back of the funding queue and find themselves shuffled off into private sector units. Commissioners not a million miles from where I live have been known to allocate placements in private sector establishments with no CQC inspection and no known history of treatment.
Also, I am pleased there is to be a review of whether hospital or residential placements are necessarily the best way of delivering services. As the Minister, Norman Lamb has acknowledged, a lot of rehabilitation and treatment is better done in a community setting. But it must not be an excuse to cut services and leave the burden of dealing with people with serious learning disabilities to carers who themselves are unable to cope.
Finally, whilst I welcome increased CQC inspections of establishments, a greater rate of return can be had by supporting independent advocacy organisations who use the expertise of service users themselves to audit care and treatment, either in a hospital or community setting. If an organisation like the excellent Changing Our Lives had been given the opportunity to inspect and audit an establishment like Winterbourne View, there is no way that Castlebeck and their crew of ill-trained thugs would have been able to get away with the abuse that they did.
(Declaration of interest: I am the Chair of a mental health trust which provides both hospital and community treatments for people with mental health and learning disabilities)