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Learning disabled abused whilst in care of NHS in Cornwall

On July 5 2006 a report was released documenting concerns about the way people with learning disabilities are cared for in a selection of homes and treatment centres.

Posted on 24 July 2006

On July 5 2006 the Healthcare Commission, in conjunction with the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), released a report documenting their concerns about the way people with learning disabilities are cared for in a selection of homes and treatment centres. The investigation began in May 2005 and was initiated by concerns raised by East Cornwall Mencap Society.

A number of services were inspected at Cornwall Partnership NHS trust, including Budock Hospital, two further treatment centres, four children’s units and 46 support living houses. Inspectors uncovered institutional abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment and the misuse of patient’s money. Investigators found evidence of some staff hitting, pushing and dragging people, withholding food and giving patients cold showers. The failure of senior trust executives to address these long-term unauthorized practices has received severe criticism.

Special measures

The Healthcare Commission, under its Health and Social Care Act 2005 obligations, has recommended the Secretary of State for Health place the trust under special measures which are designed to generate improvement in service provision. The report stated the level of abuse in Cornwall to be some of the worst the inspectorates have come across. Service inspections will now be carried out on all services in England.

Despite a number of staff being described as ‘well-intended’ they were not working in accordance with best practice. Some staff were said to be over reliant on medication to control behaviour and illegally used prolonged periods of restraint on patients.

Forty patients have been referred to Cornwall County Council under the procedure for the protection of vulnerable adults (POVA), and disciplinary action has been instigated against a number of staff. The staff have received new training and the environment of wards improved through refurbishment.

An external team has been recommended to stay in place for at least 12 months to oversee the quality of services provided to people with learning disabilities. The external team has been working with the Cornwall trust and the local council since last October to improve treatment and conditions.

Leigh Day

Leigh Day is experienced in representing those who have suffered abuse in NHS institutions. Please contact partners Alison Millar or Frances Swaine in the Human Rights department on 020 7650 1200 if you are affected by the content of this report or have suffered similar treatment from other service providers.

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