Damning Care Home Report

Sutton’s services for people with learning disabilities have been slammed by watchdogs who uncovered 15 incidents of serious abuse including two sexual assaults on the same female patient.

Experts investigating learning disability services at Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust (PCT) also found widespread institutional abuse’ and described the standard of care as like going back 30 years’.

Patients at Orchard Hill Hospital only had four or five hours of activities a week and rarely went out into the community, the report by the Healthcare Commission said.

In addition, the 100-page document published yesterday, said staff lacked awareness, knowledge, training and insight.

Nigel Ellis, head of investigations at the Healthcare Commission, said: “We concluded that these people have been poorly let down by the system that was introduced with their care in mind. We don’t accept that because you have a learning disability, the standard of care is poorer than it would be otherwise, or that your personal needs can be sidelined.

“This report shows the damage that an institution can do to peoples’ lives, to their dignity, opportunity and ultimately to their safety.”

In January 2006, the Healthcare Commission was asked, by the PCT, to conduct an investigation into their learning disabilities services after allegations of patient abuse.

A criminal investigation was also launched and Peter John Clark, a carer employed by the PCT, was sentenced to six years for raping a woman with a mental af three at Kingston Crown Court on August 31.

This incident was documented in the Healthcare Commission report along with an earlier sexual assault on the same woman and 13 other cases of abuse.

The report examined services at Orchard Hill, Carshalton Beeches Osborne House, Hastings and community houses in Sutton and Merton.

Institutional abuse – where people have little activity or interaction – was found across most of the service along with poor record keeping, staff shortages and inadequate specialist support.

Debbie Abrams, Healthcare Commission investigation manager, said: “There was a lot of sadness that things were the way they were because the team knew that with the right management things could be so very different. Some people said it was like going back 30 years – as if it was in a time warp. Other people said even 30 years ago there were good quality services for people with learning disabilities.”

Caroline Taylor, chief executive of Sutton and Merton PCT, said the trust fully accepted the criticisms in the report. She added: “There are some appalling examples of individual abuse. They were not widespread in the service and the report says the worst of these probably could not have been foreseen.

“Clearly there’s a problem about the vulnerability of people in our services. Some will be more vulnerable and in different ways and our role is to make people as safe as is humanly possible. More generally, there are things that we could have done and are continuing to do to improve our systems and our processes.”

Orchard Hill Hospital is due to close by 2009 and those living there will be transferred elsewhere.