Only nationalisation and CCTV can stop abuse in care homes

by Dennis Kavanagh

Satan and the sociology professor sat perched on a roof in Srebrenica watching a man with a Kalashnikov taking pot shots at the people running away from him. The professor explained the complex causes of the conflict and the culture of brutalisation that had transformed the once peaceful farmer into a cold blooded killer. In the pause that followed, Satan turned to the sociology professor and remarked, “But that doesn’t quite explain the glint in his eye though, does it”?

That was Radio 4’s superlative Harry’s Game, but had Satan taken up in one of the dilapidated office chairs in Winterbourne View care home I wonder if the same observation would occur to him. In a week that saw Jon Ronson argue in his book How to spot a psychopath that sadists are practically everywhere; we needed only to tune into last week’s Panorama to spot a number of them. The most vulnerable people in our community had been warehoused on an industrial estate in Bristol; though “warehoused” implies some care over the goods stored. This was an oubliette, a forgotten place in a land that wanted to forget about these people. Secret filming by Joe Casey gave these forgotten people eyes and ears and voices, and last week we heard their screams, their pleas for mercy and their howls of pain.

On the left, we often bury unfashionable impulses that would have protected these people. Go on, give into your inner socialists, you know this was about the market. Give into your inner authoritarian; you know secret filming was the only way to tell the truth about what happened.

Castlebeck keep themselves lean and profitable. The £3,500 per patient, per week that they charge is spent on corporate salaries, shareholder dividends and flashy web sites (which until last week boasted that they received an award for being one of the top 10 employers in the carehome sector). Lower down the priority order are their “support workers”, who receive an average weekly wage of £306 for their 12 hour shifts and, given the lowest priority, their defenceless patients. Cost effectiveness demands that patients are subject to the crushing banality of sitting in a functional room watching television and the occasional trip outside to the garden. No meaningful education or outside stimulation is apparent, which is only good sense as those would incur costs which would dent profits. It also suits abusers of course; too many trips to see the dinosaurs at the museum could risk some busybody asking why the girl with special needs has a whacking great bruise on her leg, or, heaven forbid, one of the inmates telling someone that Wayne hit them.

The right wing offer the same panic that always accompanies an attack on the sacred private sector. “Look at the two publicly employed NHS nurses”, they cry. “What about social services who signed the checks”, they add. As ever, their knee jerk reaction is to accuse everyone else of having a knee jerk reaction. They did this over Dunblane, screaming that schools should not be fortresses, because plainly your average branch of Barclays deserves better protection against gun wielding psychopaths than little children. The fact is that comprehensive training of support workers by experts can weed out bullies. It can teach proper restraint techniques, it can create a hurdle to casual employment that discourages sadists scouting around for soft options. It can bind people to a professional and caring ethos. The Fitzgerald inquiry into Queensland police brutality and corruption recognised exactly this when it introduced compulsory degree level qualification for Aussie coppers. If that level of qualification is necessary to nick Madge Bishop for drink driving, I’m happy to adopt it for caring for the most vulnerable.

The police recognised a long time ago that installing CCTV in station cells protected them and those in their custody. Plenty of parents did the same with rogue nannies and web cams. The only way to be sure, really sure, about the level of care the most vulnerable receive is to do what Panorama did – film it. When the most defenceless  are unable to articulate the abuse they are suffering, their only ally and advocate is the camera, which, unlike a care worker’s use of force report, is incapable of lying. The benefits don’t stop there. Criminal offences which properly reflect the gravity of what happened will require evidence from victims. A camera defeats the abuser’s best weapon, a knowledge that coherence and accuracy from the victims will suffer with the intimidation of being in a court with unfamiliar people.

Finally, why are there no resignations from the CQC or Castlebeck? When did accountability become a set of vox pops from well-fed men arching their eyebrows,  speaking softly and doing their best “Nick Clegg being sensitive look” earnestly telling us they’re learning lessons. Their allies instantly accuse anyone demanding resignations of forming a lynch mob looking for a sacrificial lamb. That is not a protection afforded to low paid workers in this country and it’s an excuse we only ever see trotted out by people in suits.

Let me give them an insight into the lynch mob. People who are rubbish at important jobs, like protecting vulnerable people, should be sacked because they are rubbish. If you have failed to act on clear evidence from a whistleblower, you are rubbish at your job because you could have stopped the abuse and you did not.

Apart from the repeated evidence from a whistleblower, Castlebeck also knew that one of their patients had previously suffered a broken arm while being restrained, one worker was dismissed for an offence of common assault. Chillingly, Wayne, the carer, explained that he’d previously worked in young offenders institutions.

This is going on now. The best protection we can offer powerless victims of abuse is nationalisation and CCTV.

Dennis Kavanagh is a barrister.

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7 Responses to “Only nationalisation and CCTV can stop abuse in care homes”

  1. Old Holborn says:

    Nothing to do with hiring the wrong people to do the wrong job then…putting a man who enjoyed violence in charge of bored people all day was always going to see him enjoy his pastime. Violence.

    Yes, cameras. We need cameras. Everywhere. Not good hiring practice. Or good management. Cameras. More cameras. Run by the State.

    Now apply your “argument” when a fight breaks in McDonalds.

  2. iain ker says:

    The best protection we can offer powerless victims of abuse is nationalisation and CCTV


    Didn’t notice you make the case for nationalisation in your piece, though I confess to only having skip-read it.

    Of course in our nationalised must never be privatised cherished/national treasure/ envy of the world NHS no-one ever has to lie in their own crap, drink from a vase, or die of MRSA.

    Although if you’d made the case for nationalising the legal profession and sticking greedy lawyers on the minimum wage I would have said amen to that.

  3. AmberStar says:

    This is an outstanding piece of writing about this issue – it is constructive criticism instead of platitude. Thank you. 😎

  4. jill bedfod says:

    Excellent article. I teach introduction to health and socual care for the Open University and despair at the stories my students tell me about the standards of care where they work…they are trying to better themselves and challenge systemic abuse when they have very little power.

  5. David Moore says:

    The introduction of CCTV must be the cornerstone of changes in the way that ALL vulnerable people are cared for. There is something radically wrong with our society. The problem, and i speak as a former Police Officer, a father of a vulnerable person who has been abused and now someone who is Trustee of a mini care home, is that there are four elements to abuse.

    The Government through its failure to put in safeguards, the Social Services who are budget driven , the Police who discriminate against vulnerable and disabled people and the Care Provider which is after all a business.

    They each in turn provide or allow circumstances that facilitate abuse.

    Take the profit out of care.

  6. angeline gay says:

    We have run care homes for 19 years and never witnessed such brutality as the Winterbourne Down staff displayed on the TV. We have CCTV in our care homes to protect staff and residents. It works very efficiently. Over the last year we have had 3 major incidents and the evidence has been more than useful. One resident was put in prison of beating up a member of staff resulting in 10 stiches. As usual when something happens to a member of staff there is no support to us or the staff. Even CQC were not interest in the event. But with the ver good evidence from the CCTV cameras the Police eventually managed a conviction. This would not have happoened otherwise has it would have been residents word against the staff. They, the power that be, go on about human rights etc. but everone of us has a right to safety and the best way forward is the CCTV and obviously good trining for staff.

  7. Tony McDonald says:

    I have witnessed abuse in care homes. Residents do not have the right to say no and would be dragged out of wheel chairs shouted at, sworn at and generally mistreated. The privet company show no signs of remorse.

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