Shocking exposé of violence at Bristol hospital

Picture of Simone, a care home resident, lying on the floor outsidePanorama last night broadcast an hour-long exposé of a locked ward for adults with learning disabilities and autism (although I did not notice anyone who seemed to have autism) on which the carers seemed to have been recruited out of nowhere, who used violence and restraint on a routine basis and then falsified the records, while senior nurses looked on and did nothing. The investigation was prompted when a nurse tried to blow the whistle but was ignored by both the company management and the Care Quality Commission, so it seems he then went to the BBC. As a result, several staff have been suspended, four of them arrested and two of the people have been moved out of the institution, one of them back home and the other to another hospital. Still, it begs the question of how many places there are like it. Panorama also published this article by the undercover reporter, and you can see the programme on iPlayer for the next year if you are in the UK. (More: Same Difference, Benefit Scrounging Scum, Connor Kinsella.)

Panorama sent an undercover reporter named Joe Casey to work in the institution and secretly film what was going on. Joe received training at the BBC’s expense, but previously had no care background, but he got the job seemingly at the first attempt. (One wonders if he beat a lot of genuinely qualified applicants, or if the place already has such a poor reputation that genuine carers do not want to work there.) He met a whole lot of similarly unqualified staff who talked in a jocular fashion about pinning people to the floor, dragging them out of bed and assaulting them. “You just have to abuse it”, one female “support worker” was shown saying. Joe was sent to help a group of workers get a woman, described as a vulnerable individual who lived in a fantasy world, out of bed, but when she resisted, they escalated the situation and it led to a struggle with her on the floor. We saw restraint being used persistently, sometimes just for fun, as with the lead “carer” named Wayne, whose ambition was said to be running his own tattoo parlour, sitting on a chair with a patient named Simone pinned under it, for no apparent reason.

The parents of two of the patients, a man named Simon and a woman named Simone, gave permission for their children to be identified and the footage to be shown. Both had lived at home until a few years ago, when they had been removed by social services due to an escalation of challenging behaviour. In Simone’s case, the behaviour was accompanied by unexplained headaches, so there was clearly a medical reason for her deterioration and I was left wondering if it had been or was being investigated (although she did not seem to be complaining of headaches in the programme). Simon was described as an exuberant character who liked to give people bear hugs, which not everybody liked, but carers responded to them with violence and, sometimes, punishments such as dragging them to the bathroom, and cold showers while fully clothed, which seems to have been a common response to any challenging behaviour (or, again, just for fun). Some of the abuse was disguised as play, and the patients did not always seem to know that the “play” was also abuse. There was some outright aggression, such as when Wayne assaulted a patient he accused of insulting his mother.

Joe finally resigned after seeing Simone endure a whole day of abuse, from being dragged out of bed in the morning through being provoked into a fight by Wayne and being left out in the cold, soaking wet (the staff told the senior nurse that the had wet herself while doing a handstand, something quite unlikely given her figure and her slow and clumsy way of moving), through another cold shower with her clothes on, accompanied by both male and female staff, during which mouthwash was thrown at her, including her eyes, followed by another torture session in her bedroom, during which she was shown shaking (a sign, a psychologist viewing the footage said, that she was burned out by the stress), and during which some flowers she had been given by her mother were brandished at her and the water thrown in her face. At that point, the camera lost power.

Footage was shown of long-stay hospitals in the early 1980s, of the inmates tied to posts to prevent them wandering or, presumably, attacking each other or giving the staff any cause to do any more work than was necessary. The footage was from a documentary called The Silent Minority, broadcast in 1981, but this kind of ill-treatment did not stop. I witnessed it (and experienced it myself) at a boarding school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and some of the same problems existed there, including the routine use of violence (prefects, in particular, were allowed to use violence in public with total impunity, but staff did as well) and staff who did not appear to have had any kind of training at all, and just did not care. Criminal records checks aside, there seems to be no system of training for care workers, no requirement for them to receive it, and it does not have the respectability of nursing or teaching or the discipline of prison work. It is not well-paid, either.

People end up in these places for all sorts of reasons; very often, a child with learning disabilities shows increasingly challenging behaviour as they reach adulthood, and sometimes a person who has been looked after at home by their parents has to move out as their parents become too old and too ill to look after them. They have rights and deserve to be looked after by people who know what they are doing and are capable of responding to them with compassion rather than interpreting their behaviour as a challenge to their authority. Those in authority must listen when patients, parents or workers complain that abuse is going on, as nobody did in this case until someone showed them video evidence, but we must have a better calibre of person caring for our most vulnerable in the first place. It appears that not much has changed since 1989, and that in some institutions, any old scum can be care workers as long as they have no criminal record — that is to say, they have not been caught yet.

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