I wrote the following article for Private Eye (06/03/12). You can view the full FOI disclosure of emails sent between Wintebourne View care and the CQC here (PDF, 3.53MB).
The correspondence also included a CQC-written report which chronologically summarises incidents at Winterbourne View prior to the Panorama documentary which exposed abuse in 2011. Here, it is published for the first time. You can read it here.
Claims of ill-treatment and abuse, numerous police investigations and concerns over safeguarding at the Winterbourne View were reported to the failing Care Quality Commission (CQC) as far back as 2009 – it has emerged.
But the watchdog did nothing for nearly two years, until it was forced to act last May by a BBC Panorama investigation showing patients with learning disabilities being verbally and physically being verbally and physically abused. The private hospital for adults with learning disabilities was then closed and 10 staff arrested.
The health and care regulator has consistently blamed the hospital for failing to notify it of serious incidents. But documents obtained by the Eye reveal that the CQC had been officially alerted to at least four separate allegations of staff abusing patients, which were also been reported to the police, dating back to October 2009. During the previous year the local authority had also informed CQC that there had been two unspecified safeguarding issues.
The first serious incident when police were called involved Ben Pullar, a patient who lost a tooth amid allegations that he was punched while he was being restrained. Although the local safeguarding board, run by South Gloucestershire Council, met with the patient’s family, no arrests were made.
The following year, police investigated at least three more allegations of abuse by staff. In February, a patient claimed she had been pushed and struck for not going to dinner with other patients. In July, a support worker reported witnessing a patient being slapped twice, once in the shower and once in her room. And in August 2010, another patient alleged her neck had been “squeezed” and she was having difficulty swallowing. That month CQC also received a notice from Castlebeck, which owns Winterbourne View, that it had given a verbal warning to a support worker for “shouting and pulling a patient with some force”. Officers came to the home and took witness statements but made no arrests.
The number and frequency of reports and incidents should have alerted both the CQC and the local authority that something was wrong at Winterbourne. Tom Pullar, whose brother made allegations against staff at Winterbourne, told the Eye that the official account given by care workers of Ben’s injury was “unbelievable”. The report from the hospital sent to the CQC stated that while under restraint he “bit the alleged perpetrator on his hand. The alleged perpetrator pulled his hand out several times to free it and in the process a bottom incisor came out of the patient’s mouth.”
Mr Pullar says his brother was punched, and the investigation relied completely on the staff members’ evidence. He told us: “The CQC and the police were naïve to believe what people said without questioning it. It was one person’s word against a vulnerable person’s word.”
The documents, obtained by the Eye under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest there was at least one other attempt at whistleblowing which could not be revealed because the people involved expected them to remain confidential.
The CQC’s Director of Operations, Amanda Sherlock, said last year that the home “effectively misled us by not keeping us informed about incidents as required by the law. Had we been told about all these things, we could have taken action earlier.”
And even now, the organisation remains in denial, claiming that “the incident books weren’t available to us. We were not being given a full picture of what was going on. If a care home is not telling us what is going on, it’s very difficult for us to do our job.”
This neatly ignores the CQC’s responsibility to send in inspectors in and demanded the incidents books – as it did once the BBC investigation had done the job instead.