Today, 26th November, 2014, something unusual has happened. The national news of the day includes quite a lot of coverage of the abject failure of the health and social care system, and the government, to do what it was supposed to do in the aftermath of the Winterbourne View scandal in which the BBC Panorama programme showed abuse being meted out to some of the most vulnerable people in our land, young adults who are intellectually disabled (or in the UK’s idiosyncratic parlance, “learning disabled”).
I was one of those minimally notable persons who, in June 2011, signed a letter to the government analysing the factors behind the events, and setting out a programme for action – most of which was adopted, but has not been done. Among other things we noted that:
There are great similarities between the abuse recently uncovered and that found in NHS
facilities in Cornwall and Merton and Sutton a few years ago. Action was taken then that
resulted in significant local and national progress. The learning from that appears to have
been forgotten, certainly by CQC and many local commissioners – in part we believe
because of the continual reorganisation of public services.
At the time that was written I was the Head of the Manchester Learning Disability Partnership. I retired 8 months later and since then the government’s austerity policies – cuts – have decimated what was once a leading edge, innovative, and broadly person-centred – if inevitably imperfect – system of supports for people to live at home. That is to say the cuts did it, together with ruthless and insensitive management imposed from a very senior level (I commented on the decline in the malign turn in organisational manners under austerity here).
When I retired, I took the opportunity to set down what I thought was important if we were to have civilised arrangements for the people we were meant to be serving. Today’s news led me to look at it again, and I think it does have a relevance, not just to Winterbourne, and the mix of NHS and private units to which learning disabled young adults are still being incarcerated, and failed (as some recent cases of avoidable deaths in these places witness). It has a relevance to the entire care sector, to people supported in their local community, those in care homes, and not just for people who are intellectually disabled but our elders, children in conditions of vulnerability, those fleeing violence and others, that is, Others, those inconvenient to our “civilised”, “modern” society and its economy.
Here is the link to my short retirement speech: “What is most important? Reflections on support arrangements for people who are intellectually disabled”