Panorama – Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed

31 May, 2011

Anybody who didn’t watch Panorama tonight should go and do so on the BBC iPlayer. It’s available here.

The programme investigated and exposed serious physical and psychological abuse by carers (including at least one trained nurse) of vulnerable adults with various forms of learning disability. The abuse took place within a private residential hospital in Bristol owned by Castlebeck, a specialist healthcare provider which “…employs 2,100 people, providing care for 580 service users at 56 locations nationwide,” according to Castlebeck’s own statement to Panorama.

A former senior nurse who worked in the Unit reported the abuse to managers, but his concerns were ignored. He then reported his concerns to the Care Quality Commission, which is the regulatory body responsible for monitoring and assessing care provided by the NHS, local authorities, private companies and voluntary organisations. As such, the CQC is the body responsible for regulating the Care Homes in which many of our parents are accommodated. The nurse contacted the CQC three times, using the word ‘abuse’, but they too ignored his concerns. When challenged about this by a Panorama reporter, Ian Biggs, a Regional Director of the CQC, described their failure to act as a “misjudgement”, and expressed regret.

This is a subject very close to my heart because my elderly father, who suffers from vascular dementia, has been a resident in a number of private EMI (i.e. elderly mentally infirm) care homes, as well as several hospitals, since early 2009. My sister and I have been very concerned on more than one occasion about the quality of ‘care’ that he has experienced, and our attempts to raise serious concerns about an incident which took place when he was a patient on an NHS hospital ward last year met with what felt to us like opposition and avoidance from the bodies we approached.

I believe that we should all be very concerned indeed about the behaviour that Panorama has exposed tonight, and in particular the fact that it was allowed to continue unchecked, despite having been raised by a qualified nurse at the highest level, until it was secretly recorded and therefore could no longer be ignored or denied. How on earth can a failure to investigate reports of abuse by a qualified nurse who had worked in the hospital be explained away as a “misjudgement” by the CQC? How on earth could the CQC ever have ‘judged’ it appropriate not to look into such reports? I have no idea, but I find their failure to act quite terrifying, and I hope the issue will be pursued with them. This failure to act three times appears to me to go well beyond some sort of simple administrative oversight or mistake.

My father is part of the ‘care’ ‘system’ as I write this, and if you’re reading it then possibly your parent is too, or will be soon. In all likelihood, many of us will end up there ourselves within the not so very distant future. I feel quite sure that what was exposed tonight is simply the tip of an iceberg. I sincerely hope that something is going to be done about it now. An independent judicial investigation into the Care Quality Commission’s failure to act appears to me to be the first necessary step.