This week Home Group will open in London a building we’ve refurbished which will become home to five clients with mental health issues. They’ll have their own flat and there will be an office where we’ll have colleagues providing any necessary support. It’s a development of which we’re properly proud.
Contrast this with the Winterbourne Hospital in Gloucestershire which was supposed to look after people with learning difficulties. The systematic cruelty by staff there only came to light through a BBC Panorama expose. In October 2012 six of the hospital’s so-called care workers were jailed and another five given suspended prison sentences. The judge said there had been a “culture of cruelty”.
Following the justifiable outcry and inquiries into Winterbourne the government announced in December 2012 that any inpatient with a learning disability or challenging behaviour, who would be better off cared for in the community, would be moved out of hospital by June 2014.
But – according to a report by the National Audit Office – more than seven months after that deadline there are still 2,600 people in hospitals and homes. The charities Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, said there had been an “abject failure” to tackle the issue.
The Care Minister Norman Lamb has held up his hands and said the government is “looking” at increasing the availability of specialised housing options so that more people can live independently but with the support that they need.
I’m not sure that’s going to come as great comfort to some of the 2,600 people and their families. That number includes 30 of the 48 patients who were at Winterbourne View at the time of its closure.
Winterbourne remains one of the most shameful episodes of recent years. The name’s become a watchword for cruelty towards society’s most vulnerable people. It’s also frightening to think that the Winterbourne regime might still be carrying on in its evil way if the BBC hadn’t received a tip off.
As I write this, though, the National Audit Office’s report is sliding rapidly down the news agenda. There are some major stories around – the executions carried out by Jordan, the Taiwan plane crash and Sir John Chilcot being questioned by MPs about the delay in the publication of the inquiry into the Gulf War. All very serious stuff, of course, and there’s certainly no suggestion of bad news being buried. However, these distractions – for want of a far better word – must not allow an ease of pressure on the government to fulfil its promise over Winterbourne.
Action to provide proper and suitable care for people with mental health issues is very much in its hands. It did promise after all…