Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed

1st June 2011


The BBC1 Panorama programme Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed.

This was a truly disturbing and upsetting hour, and I can imagine a lot of people simply turned off rather than watch the horrors unfold.

Panorama was investigating allegations of abuse in a private hospital, Winterbourne View, for people with learning disabilities and autism. A senior member of staff had blown the whistle on abuse and contacted the CQC three times telling them about the systematic abuse of some patients and nothing had been done.

Enter the BBC.

The programme showed footage that had been filmed secretly inside the hospital by an undercover investigative reporter to expose the horrific abuse at the hands of staff.

The footage was truly disturbing showing not just one member of staff but several, abusing the patients in their care both mentally and physically. It even seemed to be approved by management with one care worker commenting on the (excessive) use of force, that ‘management would tell you the same’ and there were also sections of the programme showing senior support workers joining in or failing to prevent further abuse.

The programme showed two patients in particular being singled out by what can only be described as a gang of staff. These patients were slapped, punched, pinned under a chair, had their hair pulled, soaked in the shower fully clothed then taken outside to ‘freeze’, unnecessarily restrained and mocked. It was nothing less than torture.

As I watched I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. These people are among the most vulnerable in our society and yet they have been left with these bullies, who seemed to have no training – or if they had they weren’t following it. It was like looking back in time. These patients were being treated like animals.

Footage taken in the hospital was shown to a clinical psychologist who had experience of people with learning disabilities and also behaviour that challenges. He was visibly disturbed to watch this abuse go on and on in front of his eyes. He said the staff were making up techniques as they went along, using martial arts to floor patients and that it was completely unacceptable.

Footage was also shown to the parents of the two patients that featured heavily in the programme. This was possibly the most difficult part of the programme to watch as it was awful to see their faces, as someone abused their children. How could they know that these carers couldn’t be trusted to take care of their loved ones and that they were actually physically hurting them.

Jim Mansell was interviewed on the programme and when he was told of the awful acts occurring at the hospital he said that ‘staff don’t think of these people as human beings or they wouldn’t treat them like this’ and that this was the main reason that long-stay hospitals were shut down in the first place.

Of some concern is the in-action of CQC. They were told about the abuse three times by the whistleblower and yet didn’t investigate any further. It made me wonder whether the inspection system they have in place is effective at all in picking up this type of abuse.

At the end of the programme I was relieved to hear that 13 members of staff had been suspended and these included managers and senior support workers. The two patients that had been featured had both been moved, one back home and the other to a different facility. Whether there will be any damaging long-term effects and if they will be addressed, only time will tell.

Even though it was a very difficult and upsetting programme to watch, I am glad I watched it. If anything the programme supports ARC’s views that a individual approach to offering care and support is so important, and that hospitals should be shut down completely unless there is some way to prove that they are using a model of positive behaviour support, which will encourage therapy and activity. The move towards living within the community and supported living has grown since the long-stay hospitals began to close so it gives me hope that the type of abuse that was highlighted on BBC1 is extremely rare.