Rich and I went to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability this afternoon in the Houses of P. Reporting on progress from Winterbourne View. Lord Rix chaired. Phil spoke movingly about his young son Josh being so far from home. Hazel Watson from NHS England talked about what was being done (as ever, being done, rather than done) about closing assessment and treatment units (ATUs). Viv Cooper from the Challenging Behaviour pulled up the Winterbourne Joint Improvement Programme for non-action across three years. The Executive Director from the LGA (who?) said words. I was reminded of washing LB’s hair. Water bouncing off with none penetrating his thick and unruly mop. Words. Bouncy bits of water. Doing nothing.
I stopped listening and thought about bath times.
Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Support and Care talked the talk. Passionately engaged with trying to get people out of ATUs. What are the obstacles Norm?
- Absence of information about who is in them. [in hand]
- A lack of senior people in NHS England responsible for the programme. [changed since March with Jane Cummings/Hazel Watson taking responsibility]
- A reliance on psychiatrists making clinical judgements about placements when they are paid by the service providers. [brain melt]
- Problems around funding and funding flows. [an apparently insolvable problem]
- An ingrained culture in which learning disabled people aren’t seen as equal citizens. [It’s up to all of us to change this one].
Ok. We know the issues. What’s going to happen? Er, fuck all by the sounds of it. Norm has his hands tied apparently. Hugely frustrating n’ all, but those local clinical commissioning groups/local authorities are a plinking law to themselves (paraphrasing a bit here). There are no local services to support the release of people. People aren’t released because a) containment is a cash cow for providers and b) local authorities can’t suddenly stump up the costs for newly released people.
Eh? Sorry Norm, but if you can’t do anything to change things, who can?
In the room were a largish group of parents. A group of parents who, between them, had enough atrocity stories to sink a battleship of pointless talk and no action. And that’s without chucking in the fact that LB died [he died?]. In the small amount of time left for questions, completely harrowing experiences were lobbed at the panel in Committee Room 4. Overlooking the Thames and the London Eye. Each story should (and would) have led to criminal proceedings if they had occurred outside ATUs. Stories of abuse/assault/neglect and fear. Against people who are not listened to or able to fight back.
This being a British affair, the atrocity stories were comfortably absorbed without visible shaking of etiquette. LB’s death even popped up in the discussion as something unspeakable but at the same time, a little bit of a ‘fable’. A work in progress version of a horrific event acknowledged but, at the same time, written out of the landscape. Our dude has made it to the parliamentary table, but with a particular coating. A ‘move on and thankfully not mainstream news’ coating.
We went to the pub. And chewed over next steps with Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation. A shared recognition of the scandalous/untenable position that is.