Another shocking scandal – why does this keep happening?

Blog by Andrew Lee, Director, People First
25th September 2020

The news of yet another scandal involving the "physical and emotional abuse" of people with learning difficulties has sent shock waves throughout our community. This must not keep happening.

Yew Trees hospital in Kirby-le-Soken, Essex, run by Cygnet Healthcare, is one of many of the long stay institutions that People First (Self Advocacy) has been campaigning for the closure of.

Our #CloseATUs  campaign is not just calling for the closure of these hospitals, but pressing for people to have the advocacy and support they need in their local communities.

Cygnet Healthcare also ran Whorlton Hall, which was closed down after revelations of abuse in May 2019. This was in spite of the promises made by the Government, after the abuse at Winterbourne View in 2011, to move over half of the people in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) back into the community and eventually close them.

The interim report published by the Government after the Winterbourne View scandal stated that:

  • too many people had been placed in inpatient services for assessment and treatment and had stayed there for too long
  • there was evidence of poor quality of care and care planning and an over-reliance on restraint techniques.

The Learning Disability Census (September 2015) reported that 3,230 people with Learning Difficulties were inpatients in NHS and independent services. The latest figures published by NHS Digital published 17 September 2020; tell us that there are 2,100 inpatients with Learning Difficulties. 

Of those in hospital at the end of August 2020, NHS Digital reports that 1,255 (60%) had a total length of stay of over 2 years.

The statistics and reports demonstrate that not enough has been done. We want to know why.

Following the Whorlton Hall scandal in May 2019 People First sent a letter to Matt Hancock, signed by over 100 self advocates, asking that he starts talking directly to, and listening to:

  • People with learning difficulties and autistic people who have been or are in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) and Mental Health Hospitals
  • Self-Advocacy and other Speaking Up groups run and controlled by people with learning difficulties and autistic people
  • Activists with learning difficulties and autistic people campaigning around ATUs and mental health hospitals
  • Care and Treatment Review’s Expert by Experience panel members with learning difficulties and autistic people
  • Peer advocates with learning difficulties and autistic people acting as advocates for patients in hospitals

Unfortunately we are seeing the consequences of a lack of urgency to change things and a lack of willingness to involve us and keep us safe.

After each horrendous case is brought to light we call for the abuse of people with learning difficulties to stop. It is not acceptable that this abusive practice continues in outdated and unsafe institutions. Agencies like Serco and Cygnet Healthcare say they will learn lessons but they must be held to account – doing nothing is not an option.

We want to be well, happy, and safe in the community and not go into mental health hospitals and Assessment and Treatment Units to be forgotten about, abused, or at the very worst, killed.

Related notes

https://navigator.health.org.uk/theme/winterbourne-view-scandal-and-government-response

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics/learning-disability-services-monthly-statistics-at-august-2020-mhsds-june-2020-final

https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/transforming-commissioning-services.pdf