BBC News

Government condemns 'shocking' Winterbourne View abuse

image captionA support worker stands on a patient's hand as she is restrained

Abuse filmed by the BBC at a Bristol residential hospital has been condemned as "shocking" by the government.

It comes after police arrested and later bailed four people over the treatment of patients with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said he was determined to strengthen safeguards for vulnerable adults.

The care watchdog said there was an "unforgivable error of judgement" in not investigating earlier abuse claims.

During five weeks spent filming undercover, BBC Panorama's reporter captured footage of some of the hospital's most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.

NHS South West said it had been "appalled" by the issues raised.

The hospital's owners, Castlebeck, have apologised and suspended 13 employees.

Avon and Somerset police confirmed three men - aged 42, 30 and 25 - and a 24-year-old woman were arrested as part of their investigation into the hospital.

Mr Burstow said: "The abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View uncovered by Panorama is shocking. There can be no place for such inhumanity in care services.

"There have been failures of inspection and adult protection which have exposed people to appalling abuse.

"I am determined to strengthen the system of safeguarding to protect vulnerable adults from abuse."

Mr Burstow said he had already ordered a thorough examination of the roles of both government regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and the local authorities.

CQC chairman Dame Jo Williams admitted the failure to follow up the reports of a whistleblower - a senior nurse at the home - had been an "unforgivable error of judgement".

She said the CQC was conducting a "root-and-branch review" to find out why that had happened.

Dame Jo, who said she had no plans to resign, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "I am absolutely determined that we must do better."

She said the whistleblower had apparently contacted the CQC two or three times: "Once should have been enough. We have to listen to the people who are brave enough to raise their concerns."

She said each CQC inspector had a caseload of about 50 homes but she said it was too early to say if their heavy workload was to blame.

NHS South West said it was "appalled" by the issues raised surrounding the care home.

In a statement, it said: "We always expect safe, high-quality care from providers of services and the abuse of vulnerable patients is totally unacceptable."

Warnings ignored

The programme decided to film secretly after being approached by former senior nurse Terry Bryan, who was deeply concerned about the behaviour of some of the support workers at the home.

"I have seen a lot over 35 years but this I have never seen anything like this. It is the worst I have seen," he told the programme.

Mr Bryan reported his concerns to both management at Winterbourne View and to the CQC, but his complaint was not taken up.

media captionJoe Casey said filming the abuse was the hardest thing he had done

The CQC said it was alerted to the allegations on 12 May 2011 by Panorama reporter Paul Kenyon and carried out unannounced inspections on 17, 18 and 24 May.

There is currently a team from the local mental health primary care trust at Winterbourne View and the CQC is making regular informal visits.

The CQC had also written to Mr Burstow proposing the launch of a programme of risk-based and random unannounced inspections of a sample of the 150 hospitals providing care for people with learning disabilities, a move which the minister backed.

Patients moved

Castlebeck has launched an internal investigation into their whistle-blower procedures and are reviewing the records of all 580 patients in 56 facilities.

Winterbourne View can accommodate 24 patients and is taxpayer-funded, charging the state an average of £3,500 per patient per week.

NHS South West said: "Following initial checks, and a subsequent inspection by the CQC it has been agreed that patients should move to alternative facilities at the earliest opportunity."

It said: "Primary care trusts in the South West which commissioned placements at the unit have carried out an urgent review of the processes used to commission and review privately provided services. The outcome will be fed into the wider multi-agency safeguarding review."

The Independent Safeguarding Authority, which maintains a list of people barred from working with vulnerable people, also expressed its shock at the footage.

ISA chairman Sir Roger Singleton said: "We would like to take this opportunity to remind employers that in cases of this nature, they are under a legal duty to refer the person to the ISA, so that we can consider whether they should be barred from working or volunteering with vulnerable adults and/or children."

Panorama's Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed was broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday 31 May at 2100 BST and is available to view in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

More on this story

  • Q&A: Who monitors care homes?