Opinion: Investigative journalism and reports continue to expose abuse of vulnerable adults

Mary Langan, SASH, is concerned about the ongoing abuse suffered by vulnerable adults.

Mary Langan, SASH, is concerned about the ongoing abuse suffered by vulnerable adults. - Credit: Archant

In one of the most shocking scenes in the recent BBC Panorama exposure of the abuse of adults with autism and learning disabilities at Whorlton Hall, County Durham, deputy manager Steve casually advises his staff that there is no need to record their resort to violent restraint techniques.

The supreme irony is that this training session takes place in front of a wall decorated with "mission statement" slogans, such as "person-centred", "rights", "respect" and "fun", which are flagrantly contradicted by the scenes of intimidation amounting to torture revealed by hidden cameras earlier in the documentary.

According to its website, Cygnet Health Care, UK subsidiary of the US conglomerate Universal Health Services (annual income $10billion), which owns 25 such facilities in the UK, provides "service-user focused care and rehabilitation", "pioneering service and outstanding outcomes". Well, clearly not at Whorlton Hall.

This scandal is distressing for the individuals and families concerned - and it is alarming for families with members with similar difficulties. It was reassuring that there were no Haringey residents at Whorlton Hall: it is 260 miles away!

Some years ago our son was nearly admitted to a hospital even further north in Morpeth, 300 miles away from home.

In my last "Word on the Street" column in April, I drew attention to the failure of the Transforming Care programme established in response to the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011.

Another Haringey parent, Martin Hewitt, wrote to the Ham&High last week about the plight of local families with members currently detained in similar institutions. There are 53 such long-term inpatients who come from Haringey, Camden, Islington, Barnet and Enfield.

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Official reports continue to expose the grim conditions faced by people with autism and learning disabilities.

A review by the Care Quality Commission reveals that in-patients are living highly restricted lives, experiencing "restraint, prolonged seclusion and segregation", at the hands of unqualified and poorly trained staff, without adequate supervision or safeguards.

An NHS England report confirms that life expectancy for people with a learning disability is, on average, 23 years shorter for men and 27 years shorter for women.

It is difficult to have much confidence in the regulatory authorities. Both Whorlton Hall and Winterbourne View had received recent positive inspection reports from the Care Quality Commission. In neither case did any of the authorities commissioning these services raise concerns about the care being provided. We particularly lack confidence in the management of Cygnet Healthcare, which took over Whorlton Hall from Castlebeck, which formerly ran Winterbourne View.

The government continues to neglect adult social care compounded by relentless austerity policies.

Shocking cases of abuse have occurred across all service sectors, including mental health and older people's services. If we do not provide more resources and improve the pay and training of care workers, we can expect more tragedies - and they could affect any of our families.

- Mary Langan is a parent, carer and campaigner for Save Autism Services Haringey. She is chair of the Severe and Complex Learning Disabilities Families Reference Group.