Been thinking quite a bit about this whole post-Winterbourne stuff (as usual). This is going to be a bit disjointed but I hope I make some sense by the end of it. To start, have a read of Chris Hatton’s post about Winterbourne View and institutional ‘care’ in the UK. I’m sure I’ve linked to this before but it deserves to be linked here, there and everywhere.
Quoting from this;
“Jim Mansell and a very talented team in Kent demonstrated in the 1980s that it was possible for people with learning disabilities and the types of challenges often used by specialist residential services to justify their existence to live fulfilling lives in the community, with the right, individualised support (see the revised Mansell report; 2007).
Jim was a remarkable man and, as a colleague who worked closely with him wrote to me recently, he’d be turning in his grave if he could see what was happening. At least 3000 people still incarcerated in assessment and treatment units in the UK at the last (vague) count. So much research into provision for learning disabled people in the UK and no real change in many ways.
Then a friend messaged me after meeting her son’s adult social care manager;
We had a visit from the social worker to talk through an endless form about T and adult social care. I really struggle with it as I object to the way that she phrases almost everything! Always T’s problem – not crap communication etc on the part of others. Eventually we talked about independent living and I cried as I do every time it is mentioned. And I told her what had happened to LB and why I worry so much about putting T in someone else’s care. She was shocked but it wasn’t until I listed the lack of a battery in the defibrillator that she exhaled in amazement. No patient interaction, face down restraint, but the true shocker was the missing battery? Kind of explains why I cry, doesn’t it?
Many of the ‘post Winterbourne’ discussions tend to start with the caveat; “Er, horrific abuse uncovered at Winterbourne but this level of abuse isn’t apparent elsewhere… We’ve just uncovered a lot of non-compliant units”. It’s peculiar that ‘full on, nasty, physical, caught on (Panorama) film’ type abuse is given some sort of special status. As are missing batteries or out of date oxygen tanks. The lack of patient/staff interaction, careless use of face down restraint and sustained neglect over months, or years, of people isolated from their families and their local communities is treated as somehow less important.
While I understand that the visual images captured at Winterbourne View are completely shocking and harrowing, surely people (particularly those who work in health and social care, and particularly those who have anything to do with these places) can understand that leading an incarcerated life without engagement, interaction, interest, activity or aspiration, behind locked doors, often a long way from home, is truly fucking shite.
Given that little has actually changed since the Panorama film and the bucket of money chucked at making changes ‘post Winterbourne’, I wonder what has to happen to lead to real change.
Here are a few (outlandish but hey, what is there to lose?) suggestions:
- A Big Brother type set up in the currently empty STATT with a selection of key health and social care figures living the life of the typical inpatient for three weeks. [Channel 4 would snap it up. Happy to come up with some names if necessary.]
- A mockumentary where an investigation is underway at a STATT like unit where household pets/animals are found locked in and deprived of therapeutic environment. The missing battery is less relevant here. [There would be a stampede of ‘celebrities’ queuing to host, comment on and campaign against the filming of any further episodes. Media attention guaranteed. Ricky Gervais at the front of the queue without a sniff of irony.]
- A diverse group of secondary school aged kids go to work in an Assessment and Treatment Centre for a couple of week, overseen by a panel of learning disabled people, carers, relevant third sector organisations and interested ‘lay’ people. Tasked, through open discussions, unconstrained engagement and spontaneity, to come up with a set of suggestions and alternatives to inpatient life. Learning disability life and imaginaries through a set of fresh eyes.
Given our experience of the young people/children who have hung out with (or come into contact with) LB or his classmates, over the years, who have sucked up difference, unusualness, quirky and sometimes ‘in your face behaviour’, with little comment, slight adjustment and an embracement/incorporation that needs no mention or recognition, I can’t help thinking we’re looking at the wrong places for answers.