Patients Suffer Extensive Abuse

{mosimage} A damning report has raised serious concerns about the treatment and care of people with learning disabilities. It follows an investigation by the Healthcare Commission and Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) into several treatment centres and units. The report recommended Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust is put in special measures for “widespread institutional abuse” of patients at Budock Hospital. Checks will now be carried out on all services in England. The report said the scale of abuse in Cornwall was the worst the inspectorates have come across. During the investigation, teams of inspectors found evidence of staff hitting, pushing, and dragging people who were supposed to be in their care. There were also reports of staff withholding food and forcing patients to take cold showers.

There were allegations of sexual abuse by fellow residents and one man had his skull fractured in an attack by another with learning disabilities. People’s money has also been misused and the CSCI and Health Commission have referred these cases to the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service. The inspectors said some staff were caring and well-meaning but they “lacked understanding and knowledge of best practice”.

The Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust said there were “no excuses” for the failings in its learning disability services, but stressed some changes have been made. Five members of staff from Budock Hospital have been dismissed, a ward has been closed and staff are being retrained.

Chief Executive Lezli Boswell, who took over at the trust in May, has apologised in writing to the carers and service users. She said: “I cannot and will not attempt to justify what has happened, as it is inexcusable. My job now is to turn the services around.”

The report has recommended an outside special measures team should continue to help run Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust for at least another year. It also calls for an independent review of the trust board, and services for people with learning disabilities to be designed according to individual need.

The national charity Mencap said it was horrified. Spokesman David Congdon said: “The extent of abuse of people with a learning disability in Cornwall has been truly appalling.”

A joint statement by Anna Walker, the chief executive of the Healthcare Commission and David Behan, CSCI’s chief inspector, said the level of abuse in Cornwall was not found everywhere. However, they called for an inspection programme of all NHS and independent healthcare providers will be carried out and published next year.

“More than a million people in England (2% of the population) are estimated to have learning disabilities” they said.

“It is not acceptable to overlook the needs of these vulnerable people because they rarely capture the headlines, or in some cases are unable to champion their own rights.”