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TX: 14.10.03 – IS ENOUGH BEING DONE TO PROTECT DISABLED PEOPLE IN CARE HOMES FROM ABUSE?



PRESENTER: PETER WHITE


WHITE
Now yesterday we featured the shocking story - and may be that word's overused but not in this case - of sexual and physical abuse which went on almost unchecked in a private residential home for people with learning disabilities, it was over a period of almost 10 years. Now Buckinghamshire County Council has now settled out of court a compensation claim on behalf of many of the residents which could amount to well over a million pounds but they've not admitted liability of local authorities in such cases and they still seem to be arguing that such cases are difficult to identify, to prevent and to bring to court.

David Shakespeare is leader of Buckinghamshire Council.

SHAKESPEARE
There were failings in the inspection regime but to look at it in - from a realistic point of view the county council is being asked to say that on their two inspection visits a year their inspector failed to spot things that relatives of those who had been abused failed to spot on their daily, weekly and monthly visits to see their relations.

WHITE
DavidShakespeare putting some of the blame on the relatives. So do we have any reasons for confidence that such horrific cases aren't still happening and that there are any more safeguards in place to prevent them now than there were say 10 years ago? Well one thing which has happened is the setting up of the National Care Standards Commission, specifically in response to cases like this one. I'm joined by Trish Davies from the Commission and also from Oxford by Leo Sourbey who is a housing and support manager with MENCAP, which is the charity which represents the interests of people with learning disabilities. TrishDavies, if I can come to you first, I know the Commission's only been in place for 18 months but why should we believe that with your structure cases like these are any less likely to happen?

DAVIES
Well Peter perhaps if I could first say that I'm delighted for the people concerned that they've had the recognition of their suffering and I'd also like to pay tribute to Tom Burgner, whose vision resulted in our organisation being set up. So what's different about our structure? Well the first thing is we're national, we're not local, we're not subject to local interests which might be conflicting and we have a national system of regulation and we have strong standards and we take our independence very importantly.

WHITE
But you don't grow a new breed of inspectors overnight and presumably many of the inspectors you will use will have come from the local authorities?

DAVIES
Many of them have done but we've also recruited over 500 new inspectors, so we have quite a mixed workforce and we've tried to ensure that we have a staff who have a background in the services and know what they're looking at when they carry out those inspections.

WHITE
Can I bring you in Leo Sourbey, you're on the ground working with people with learning disabilities, how confident are you that things have changed and that the Commission will help to change them?

SOURBEY
Well we're certainly confident that the system is moving in the right direction, as Trish said having a national single agency and a clearer set of standards undoubtedly helps. What we're not convinced about is if we are seriously asking the Care Standards Commission to protect vulnerable people on the basis of two inspections per year with their current level of resources it's a task that they can achieve.

WHITE
Let me put that to Trish straightaway because you are having only the same number of inspections and in this case admittedly it was maybe a particularly horrific case but one of the big things there was that people didn't talk to residents, it sounds as if they didn't talk to staff half the time.

DAVIES
Absolutely and that's something that we're not prepared to put up with. We want our inspectors to make a particular point of talking to the residents. We need to find out from them themselves what's going on in these services. We also need to ask relatives and we need to talk to staff, so we need to use every opportunity to find out what's really going on, not just rely on managers to tell us what they think we want to know.

WHITE
Now Leo Sourbey one of the points which David Shakespeare made and people often make is the difficulty of getting evidence in these cases from people who clearly do have communications difficulties, how do we solve that problem because people will worry that these cases could still happen quite easily in situations like this?

SOURBEY
Well first and most simply we have to believe people with learning disabilities when they say that something is happening to them which they don't like or they're being abused or however they express it and that's the first barrier that society has to overcome. The majority of people with learning disabilities will certainly know if there are things they're not happy with and they are able to say so.

WHITE
Is there any reason to say that's any easier now? There have been some changes in the law haven't there - proof of sexual offences for example.

SOURBEY
Yes that's right and I think certainly there has been progress in supporting people in such situations to give evidence. I think there is still a fair way to go in providing the right kind of support, the evidence being processed in the right kind of way, such as we've more recently, over the last decade, seen - with children who've been the subject of sexual abuse.

WHITE
Trish Davies, clearly one of the problems here is that - and I mean again David Shakespeare touched on it - that you need to actually get evidence from people. How can you convince us that people will actually - they'll go through the whole gamut, for instance it was suggested the relatives hadn't told people, surely it's not down to relatives to spot these things, it's down to qualified inspectors isn't it?

DAVIES
Well I mean the responsibility for running a safe service actually rests on the person running that service, they're registered to do that and I don't think we should forget that. They're accountable for what they do. Our inspectors must do their best to find out what's going on and we do need to rely on others as well, we need to rely on relatives and be perceptive to their worries. We also have to rely on the public generally, other people go into these services, you know, tradesmen go in, we are running currently a public information campaign to encourage anybody who has concerns about services to let us know and to try and make people aware of the rights of those people using the services so that they're entitled to good quality care, we can't do our job without support from the community.

WHITE
Can I ask you both, very quickly, Trish Davies first, how confident are you that there aren't cases like this still happening?

DAVIES
I can't say it's never again but I can say that we couldn't possibly contemplate something like this going on for 10 years.

WHITE
Leo?

SOURBEY
They will be still be happening, risks are always there, we must do more to minimise the risks and stiffer penalties for offenders in the Sexual Offences Bill will hopefully help us in that direction.

WHITE
LeoSourbey, TrishDavies thank you both very much.





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