The full panoply

A rare post. I’m on leave for a week. At home. Writing what I’m calling ‘book 2’ about families with disabled children (a contracted gig). This has involved sifting back through time, space, context, hisory, stuff. I kind of got stuck revisiting the documentary The Silent Minority made by Nigel Evans in 1981. About St Lawrence’s Hospital, Caterham and Borocourt Hospital near Reading. Long stay institutions for learning disabled children and adults.

We moved near to Borocourt Hospital in 1982.

Sun drenched summers, fun and laughter. Lager and black booze filled evenings and country pub lock-ins. A different terrain to our Southend childhood. Borocourt standing to attention faintly in the background. Carelessly, thoughtlessly ignored. A magnificently austere red brick gothic building. A place that almost bothered me. Borocourt people muttered.

Nigel Evans is someone I wish I’d met. The humanity and humour he captures in this documentary alongside footage that almost demands a trigger warning before viewing is extraordinary. ‘Inmates’ offer warm, heartbreaking and thoughtful commentary:

Perhaps (I dunno, I found it all beyond moving, harrowing and devastating) the breathtaking stomach punch was when staff noticed that Terry Green was trying to move the wheels of the chair he was sitting in but couldn’t quite reach them. They sorted a different sized chair (temporarily) for him.

Evans describes how

After 40 years in bed, 10 years on a bean bag, Terry Green takes his first inching steps towards independence. For decades the full panoply of the medical profession has tripped through this ward and nobody had the wit, the initiative or imagination to give Terry this opportunity. This kind of neglect invites a whole new definition of the phrase ‘mental handicap’.

No wit, initiative or imagination… The full panoply of the medical profession.

I had to google ‘panoply’. It means ‘an impressive collection’. My respect for Evans speaking these words grew exponentially. And, with a bit more digging, I found out he did some fudging in terms of gaining consent for the film (according to the enraged health boards of Surrey and Reading). It was in the public interest he said unapologetically.

It was. And it is. We have a public and unassailable record of the treatment of learning disabled people in the 1980s.

Today further details of the latest (now already dated while still not published) Leder annual review were leaked by the Health Service Journal (@rebeccasmt). The Times did a piece on Sunday (@RosamundUrwin) highlighting the lowlights. The HSJ offered the 12 recommendations with commentary.

The report documents the usual shite. 38% of deaths haven’t been allocated a reviewer, consistently dire premature mortality rates and more. The recommendations are truly grim. And include a call for guidance that ‘learning disabilities’ should never be an acceptable rationale for ‘do not resuscitate’ or used as the underlying or only cause of death on a death certificate. Forty years after Nigel Evans called out the medical profession for its inability to be human.

With unexpectedly fab weather and ‘holiday’ time on my hands I’ve reclaimed a patio area Rich built in the corner of our garden 15 odd years ago. A bit of ivy and other weed/rubbish clearance and I’ve ended up with a small, perfectly formed, shaded outdoor office space to sit and work in. The main tree, a Canadian maple we were gifted as a sapling from a garden across town, has in the intervening years grown to form a canopy of brilliantly bright leaves merging with an overflowing grapevine from next door.

This has distracted me this afternoon. My brain scrambling, jumbling and stumbling over the full panoply, the ‘impressive collection’ of people who still, 40 long years on, think learning disability is a cause of death or a reason not to resuscitate.

And our beautiful, beautiful boy, who spent hours in this garden each summer as the Maple tree slowly grew, one of the many dead. Dead. Not by ‘learning disability’ (you ignorant bastards). Death by the full panoply of the medical and other professions.

7 thoughts on “The full panoply

  1. Might add more later – just back exhausted from a Sloven Bored Meeting (typo intended) – same old story no honesty, no openness and no transparency. My questions ‘censored’ – they don’t want bad news airing in public. Even the new Board demonstrate the conclusions of a report published by Harvard Business School (co-authored by two English academics and one US) about the effect of CEO pay using evidence from the English NHS: their principle objective is to minimise the amount of bad news ending up on the Secretary of State’s desk!

  2. …in eighties I saw the film on St Lawrence’s while doing my social work training. I have never forgotten seeing passive people herded into a field – to be caged behind a high wired fence to be fed by staff – like animals – through a letter box in the high gate.

    At same time my placement in Normansfield institution, an old white haired Downs man walking toward – seeing – seeing my son – my boy – in thirty years time. Seeing so many quieted beautiful people still trusting – while treated as objects by male nurses – feet up in offices – dressed into three piece suits.. .omnipent.. detached and super powerful.

    And the past thirty years spent – burned – climbing over the same people – people paid to care and pull down barriers – who fill new cages – built – . to hide our sons and daughters.

    2019 – and the medical professions have to be reminded that all humans have a right to life…….and…..

    …..not as……..Wilfred Owen….. wrote of others – in another place -…in another time.

    ….’treated as cattle’,

    • Greetings,
      I believe there is a huge level of misunderstanding about the Cage that featured in the silent minority documentary.
      I was a patient in the adoclescent unit at borocourt in the mid-1970’s. This was situated on the top floor of the main building.
      Below us was Laurels ward. This was a locked/secure ward for some of the most troubled adult males.
      Their only place of exercise off the ward was the concrete compound which featured the train without wheels.
      This cage at least gave them a marginally better place to experience the outdoors away from the ward and the concrete compound.
      Instead of looking at the 4 walls of the ward, and sitting on concrete, they were able to be “outside” in the grounds of the hospital, albeit within the cage.
      The overall lack of staff and hence time to interact with patients was by far the greatest crime, The cage was a clumsy but well intentioned means of improving the lot of some of the most disturbed patients at the hospital.
      As teenage inpatients we were encouraged or expected, I can’t remember which, to work on the other wards in the afternoon. The Laurels was the only ward we weren’t allowed to work on.

  3. Me too Kate, I cried. I cried when I saw the image on the document ‘ Parents – both dead’

    Parens that have spent most of their loved ones lives, caring, loving and sparing them heartache and hoping with all their hearts that when they die someone will love their son/daughter enough to keep them safe and happy.

    I still have a BBC video of Mcintyre’s undercover programme of care homes. I cant remember how long ago that was but it still mirrored Winterbourne View many many years later.

    There are good homes and places because I see some of the people that live in them, but there are cruel cultures that still exist in the system. They need to be stamped on because every expose of the bad people working in these places must hurt and damage the trust in the good empathic people that are working tirelessly in the care system.

  4. Yes Pauline

    So much harm done by the worst in human nature – ignored by people paid to feel it and prevent it.

    From top of organisation to the bottom , collusion in ‘other. people ‘ misery – is mandatory.

    Social workers give in – see Statutory neglects and worse all around them and they are conditioned to feel ….no shame.

    Politicians, Leaders and managers starve orphaned LD adults living fearful lonely lives – of support pennies.essential to getting them to GP in time And then they fight the grieving families of the others that they failed – and feel no shame.

    Paper misery – wet with ‘other people’ tears – is filed every day …..with no rep! the answer.

    With no shame.

    Shame on them.

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