MP Paul Burstow urges care home abuse penalties for owners

Winterbourne View residential hospital in Bristol Six people were jailed for their role in abuse at Winterbourne View private hospital

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Companies who own care homes in England where abuse is carried out should face unlimited fines and criminal sanctions, a former minister has said.

Lib Dem MP Paul Burstow has argued for new laws to ensure care providers are held criminally accountable for abuse and neglect on their premises.

This would have tackled a "culture of cruelty" at the Winterbourne View hospital, near Bristol, he added.

Ministers said there was a "clear gap" in regulation to be addressed.

Mr Burstow, who was care services minister until leaving the government in September, outlined proposed legislation in the Commons, which he said would see justice for future victims of abuse and their families

'Thugs'

He said he did not want to see a repeat of the Winterbourne View care scandal that led to the conviction of six people for their role in abuse and neglect at the private hospital near Bristol, but for which he claimed there had been "no corporate accountability".

His proposals, which are likely to need government support if they are to become law, include:

  • Amending existing legislation to make a corporate body guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed by its board or senior management neglects or is a substantial element in the existence and/or possibility of abuse or neglect
  • Offences should be punishable by unlimited fines, remedial orders and publicity orders
  • Those with relevant information about suspected abuse or neglect must supply information to Adult Safeguarding Boards if requested to do so.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Burstow said "no stone should be left unturned" when it came to protecting vulnerable people and reputable owners had "nothing to fear" from his proposed legislation.

"When things go wrong, when terrible abuse and neglect takes place, the public expect those who take the fee to be held to account," he told MPs. "This new law would act as a deterrent. It would force weak boards of directors to pull their socks up."

"At Winterbourne View staff carried out horrific acts because of the opportunities a culture of cruelty created. This bill would help to remove some of those opportunities."

'Duty of oversight'

Gary Fitzgerald, chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse, which is supporting the MP's plans, said: "While it is right that abusing care workers should feel the full impact of the courts and sentencing, it is equally important that those who employ and direct those workers should also face justice.

"The public expect no less."

Mr Burstow's bill will be debated for the first time in March.

Ministers have indicated they are prepared to look at criminal sanctions as one of a number of future options.

"We need to have a situation where people who run and own care organisations, in the public, private or voluntary sector, know that they will be held accountable for the services they provide and that there will be consequences for those who fail in their duties of oversight," said Norman Lamb, who took over Mr Burstow's government role.

"When I first took on this job in September, I identified a clear gap in the regulatory framework - one which I am determined will be addressed. This spring we will announce proposals to address the gap in the law on effective corporate accountability."

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